Saturday, December 23, 2006

Rocky Balboa

Perhaps the greatest underdog in cinematic history returns to the screen for one glorious last time.

The results are impressively entertaining.

Dare I say one of my favorite movies of the year.

Sylvester Stallone has fittingly delivered his greatest directorial achievement, and at the same time has provided a well deserved end for one of the most beloved movie characters of all time.

Perhaps I was overcome by the stirring Bill Conti score, or I got caught up in the inspiring themes of the film, or maybe I just got caught in a huge wave of nostalgia but.... I loved this film.

Loved it.

At one point I even caught myself getting a little misty-eyed.

I know that's not very manly for me to admit, but this film moved me.

I found myself being touched by the memories of the first film, and how I still cared about these characters many years later.

At the start of the film we find Rocky at...pardon the pun....rock bottom. His beloved Adrian has passed away, his friends are all gone, and his son is embarrassed by the huge shadow of having Rocky Balboa as a father.

Life has knocked Rocky down to the point that he is barely able to muster up enough energy everyday to recount his past life with Adrian, and to share old ring stories with customers at his restaurant.

He is a shell of a man trying to pick up the pieces of a broken life.

When a computer simulated fight declares him the winner over the current champion, his competitive wheels start turning, and he realizes that it's time to start fighting life back.

Cue Bill Conti score.

The movie works on a lot of different levels.

Boxing makes a great metaphor for fighting the trials of life, and Stallone really taps into that here.

Rocky is dealing with his place in life, and with the passing of time, and his relevance in it.

He's no longer the young man carving out a path for himself. He's a man that life has brutally swept aside.

He's the old man left to live out his life in obscurity.

In terms of creating an underdog it's a great place to begin.

Unlike the first film, which is a story of an underdog given a chance of a lifetime, and making the most of it.

This film is about an underdog reclaiming one's own life, and legacy against all odds.

It's even more effective when one considers that the character's arc in a way mirrors the actor playing it.

There's a lot of parallels between Rocky and Stallone, and he taps into that here.

His script also points out the inherent problems with the modern athlete.

How talent has gotten them to a point of mediocrity, and how they let success and hype define them, rather than building character through taking the treacherous journey of hard work and adversity .

The movie is also about making a difference in life. It's about taking up, and accepting the challenges that life brings. About being relevant in life, and not being content with being an observer of life.

It's really stirring, emotional stuff.

The movie feels like a call to arms for masculinity. He's calling on a more simple time, when the battles we endure defined the person we are.

It's the stuff of warriors.....and god help me I fell for it.

In terms of story, it's really a good film.

I guess a more cynical person can pick away at the logic of the situations, and the simplistic script. But I found the movie to be engaging, touching, and enjoyable.

I also have to admit that I have a soft spot for the character.

I remember reading the Rocky picture book when I was a kid. I remember that Rocky II was the first movie that I saw without my mother. I loved the song Eye of the Tiger and thought Mr. T was the coolest thing ever in Rocky 3. When I think about the 80's and the Cold war, I remember Ivan Drago and the audience in my Rocky 4 screening chanting U-S-A during the movie.

During this particular Rocky movie I was surprised to feel myself associate with the character in new ways. I found myself associating with Rocky's passage of time, I sympathized with him as a working class father, and lastly as a sports fan who finds it difficult to relate with the modern athlete. I also found myself rooting for Stallone as a performer. I admit, personally it's nice to see him do good work again.

But putting personal feelings aside, the movie really works. It's fun seeing Rocky in his element. The stuff like visiting Adrian's grave, seeing Rocky interact with Paulie (Burt Young), and reliving past moments from the first film was sympathetic, nostalgic and unexpectedly moving.

Honestly there's not a better way to close the book on this character's journey.

It's a perfect ending.

The film is directed well too. I've never been impressed by Stallone's direction, to be honest his track record isn't that impressive. But he hits all the right notes here.


The pacing was good, the use of flashbacks effective. I liked seeing the character in turmoil, and in emotional pain, then fighting back. I enjoyed the slow build towards the big fight. I found the training montage stirring, and I liked the action of the big fight. Surprisingly, the choreography in the film is the most realistic, and impressive of all the Rocky movies.

The film also benefits from solid performances. Stallone does his best work since....well the first Rocky. Real life boxer Antonio Tarver does a good job of making Mason Dixon arrogant, yet strangely affable and sympathetic, while also being a formidable opponent for Rocky. Burt Young returns with his always touching, and humorous performance as Paulie, and Milo Ventimiglia does a good job of playing Rocky's conflicted son.

It's just a good old fashioned well made movie.

No crazy special effects, fancy camera tricks, or complex story.

Just good refreshing fun.

I wasn't the only one enjoying myself either. The audience I was in were clapping, laughing, and cheering throughout the whole film as well.

When the movie ended I heard someone yell encore.


They wanted more Rocky.

It's really an excellent accomplishment for Sly Stallone. I'm sure that not many people were calling for another Rocky movie. But he fought to tell this story, and he pulled it off really nicely, and he provided us with an entertaining, touching story that in retrospect needed to be told.

The character deserved a good ending, and perhaps the audience needed to be reminded of how a character like Rocky can inspire, and move us in our own lives.

It's especially impressive considering that I found this film many times more moving, enjoyable, and artistically superior than other so called important boxing movies like Michael Mann's Ali, Best picture winner Million Dollar Baby, and Ron Howard's soulless and sappy Cinderella Man.

It's an accomplishment for Stallone that shouldn't be overlooked. Hopefully the film's success will open more doors for him to do good work.

Because after making this movie he deserves it.

Make sure to check out this fun, inspiring, and touching film.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

Great review, Ray ... I mostly agree with you that this was a great addition to the Rocky canon ... My only real beef was with the Milo story line, which just added nothing for me .. otherwise, it was a fitting end to the saga