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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