Review by Paul Stathakis | January 10, 2007

Raging stallion

We saw him lose. We saw him win. Now we’ll join him as he embarks on his comeback journey. He was once considered the greatest, the fastest and the most willing fighter in the boxing world. He won the heavyweight championship on two occasions and throughout his prolific career he never failed to bring fans to their feet each time he stepped in the ring: Rocky “The Italian Stallion” Balboa (Sylvester Stallone).

Skip to present day. Rocky is 60 years old but hasn’t lost any of his charm or enthusiasm. He dresses like the young Rocky we first met in 1977 and better yet walks and talks like his younger self. His build, which once made him an intimidating opponent, looks as though it hasn’t changed either. But with the passing of time, it is logical to presume that Rocky has changed in ways less obvious than others. Later in the film we find out he has calcium deposits in his joints, weak knees, and he can’t dance in the ring as fast anymore.

Rocky spends his lonely days remembering his late wife Adrian (Talia Shire) who we only see through a series of flashbacks in Rocky Balboa. Early on in the film both he and his long-time friend Paulie (Burt Young) tour the old neighborhood  They visit locations where Rocky and Adrian spent their tender years. The film is quick to reveal emotion – an element which feels essential here. A part of the movie focuses on Rocky’s memories. For the Italian Stallion and fans of the franchise, Rocky Balboa is a trip down memory lane. Although we’ve seen Rocky tolerate forceful jabs, the one thing that seems toughest for him to endure is Adrian’s death.

”Rocky Balboa” is the work of an aging actor portraying an aging character. Rocky’s determination to return to the ring for one last bout mirrors Stallone’s resolve to get this sixth and final Rocky picture made. This is a personal project and while 2006 has offered viewers a number of intimate works, “Rocky Balboa” stands as the most modest and poignant of them.

Of course, the film would not be complete without Rocky’s charm. An example of delightful dialogue surfaces in a scene where Rocky stands outside an apartment complex and invites a friend (and her son) to his little Italian restaurant (which he named after Adrian).

When he reaches into his pocket to find a business card and has difficulty finding one, he mumbles to himself, “I feel like a kangaroo – all this stuff in my pocket.” Rocky has a way of being metaphorical and funny by simply being himself. Another moment that reveals sentiment is when Rocky opens up to Paulie about Adrian and how life is too difficult now. He makes references to “stuff in the basement” and a beast trapped deep within him. Little does he know that the beast will propel him right back into training and, eventually, into a ring.

Like Rocky’s punch and his willpower, “Rocky Balboa” is a film made from within. These are the thoughts running through Stallone’s mind: he is getting older and people in the film often remind him of his age. But the philosophy of age is buried once Stallone enters the Mandalay Bay arena in Las Vegas to square off against the current heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver). Rocky has learned his share of life lessons and he shares one of them with his son: “But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.”

Rocky enters his comeback fight with this mentality and it justifies the outcome of the bout. This is one of the year’s best films and a noble end to an everlasting legacy.


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