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lenny abrahamson brie larson jacob tremblay

A game of two halves – ★★★★

Lenny Abrahamson has a thing for showing loneliness and isolation on screen – consider Pat Shortt’s Josie in Garage, the internal guilt and demons of What Richard Did and of course the struggle to get out of that big giant head in Frank. With Room, this loneliness is divided and shared by two people. A mother (Brie Larson) and her five-year-old son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), who live in captivity in a locked room.

Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue has written the screenplay, adapting it from her own 2010 novel. This reviewer is illiterate so can’t comment on the work as an adaptation, but on screen it’s a well-paced, sensitive story that is hard to fault as a constructed piece of screen-writing and well-worthy of the awards-consideration it has received.

The film is split right down the middle, telling first of Jack and Ma’s time in captivity and confined space, before the midpoint escape and resulting re-adjustment to a new captivity back in reality which brings a whole new set of unimaginable challenges. In this first half, Donoghue’s script masterfully manages that growing relationship between mother and son, but really highlights just how challenging it must have been to not lose all hope and enter a permanent state of frustration with him and restart a new cycle of abuse.

room lenny abrahamson irish filmEarly on, Jack’s voice is shrill, annoying and aggressive and will really get deep inside an audience’s head. The big transition then occurs as this five-year-old adjusts to society and freedom and fosters a brand new relationship with his grandmother and her partner. It’s unlikely you’ll see a better “child performance” from a young actor this year and it’s a credit to the environment on-set and the work of the director that he got so much out of him.

Abrahamson is an incredibly sensitive and thoughtful film-maker. The story is told entirely from the perspective of Jack and so when their captor “Old Nick” comes in to the room to drop off supplies and to basically have his way with Ma, we stay in the closet with Jack and we’re allowed to keep our eyes closed and away from the scenes of rape. The film is never creepier than it has to be and scenes with Ma breast-feeding five-year-old Jack aren’t exaggerated and come across as natural tender moments between a mother and her child. Ma has been locked up for seven years and Jack is five, so the simple fact that he is the product of a rape is never overly-exploited, instead leaving the audience to ponder that horrific reality themselves.

The film by its nature is a story of re-birth, growth and family – but some will find the score (from composer Stephen Rennicks and recorded by the RTÉ National Concert Orchestra) a little too sweet and leading. The film’s story is horrifying and uplifting by itself and the audience won’t need this much guidance to pull at their emotions. It’s a minor complaint and will likely suit a lot of audience members perfectly.

The final word goes for Brie Larson. She deserved more praise for the brilliant Short Term 12 and brought a reality check to the other larger-than-life characters in Trainwreck last summer (she played Amy Schumer’s character’s sister). She’s really brilliant here, unafraid to give a warts-and-all performance in the room that is never showy or false, before changing tack completely and finally allowing herself to break once she’s back in the real world and Jack is safe. They just just bubble-wrap up that Oscar and send it to her now.

Room is released in Ireland on January 15th 2016

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.