When it comes to filmmaking, there is a very big difference between warm and sentimental. Sentimental filmmaking tends to underestimate it’s audience’s intelligence by oversimplifying complicated issues in order to ensure that they are all on the same page. Warm filmmaking takes a leap of faith and assumes it’s audience is intelligent by being completely realistic about issues without succumbing to cynicism. While I myself have a certain affinity for cynicism, a film doesn’t have to be cynical in order to be honest. Lenny Abrahamson’s Room does a beautiful job of mining human dignity and decency out of a horrific situation lesser films would seek to exploit.
True to it’s title, Room opens on a room. In the room is Ma (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay). It’s a run-down but clean living space that Ma has been forced to live in against her will by Old Nick (Deadwood’s Sean Bridgers) for the past seven years. And so it is revealed that Jack is the product of Ma’s abduction and rape, but Ma understandably refuses to accept him as her son’s father. Every night, Old Nick comes into the room and proceeds to rape Ma while Jacob pretends to sleep in the closet, not really knowing what’s going on. Eventually Jack and Ma are able to escape the clutches of Old Nick, and the rest of the film focuses on them struggling to adapt to world much bigger and more complicated than their room.
This is a film that rises and falls on the strength of the performances and they are all fantastic. Brie Larson delivers an incredibly complex and emotionally resonant performance as Ma, the best performance given by any actor this year. The young Jacob Tremblay is just as effective as Jack, an anything but typical five-year-old, delivering one of those child performances that’s so good it’s almost bewildering it came from someone that young. Joan Allen is excellent in a supporting role as Ma’s mother and the always great William H. Macy shows up briefly as Ma’s father. Lenny Abrahamson’s script is fantastic with the exception of some distractingly unrealistic cop characters, but his tender and intuitive direction more than makes up for it.
After Ma and Jack escape Old Nick, we never hear from him again except that he’s caught. This might aggravate some viewers used to vigilante justice or serial killer stories. A lesser movie would have seen Ma force Old Nick to apologize before gunning him down or make the character of Old Nick more twisted and disgusting and explore him in a Buffalo Bill-type fashion. Nothing against those kinds of movies, but Room isn’t about that. Old Nick doesn’t matter in this story. This is a story about recovery and possessing impressive emotional strength against all odds. It’s about the most powerful bond of all — a parent and their child. Grade: A-