Rocky Balboa: Film Review

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30.12.06 – By Craig Parrish: About a year ago, when “Rocky Balboa” started filming I wrote an article called “Looking Back: Rocky,” in which I reviewed the original film that started it all. It seems that there are basically two types of fans who love the “Rocky” movies: those who like the early, character driven films and those who like the populist entertainment of Rocky III, IV, and to some extent V. I fall into the previous category. Even though I love boxing, I really enjoy the intimate moments of the early films.

I love the development of the characters, how we discover their imperfections, weaknesses and fears, and how they all find each other. Make no mistake, on the average, “Rocky” films are about redemption and overcoming long odds. “Rocky Balboa” does not disappoint. I am inclined to say that this movie is the best “Rocky” movie since the original. It is very, very good.

There is a term in filmmaking called “transcending the genre.” It basically means that on the outside the movie is a “western” or an “action film” or a “love story”. The best example of this that I can give is Clint Eastwood’s masterpiece, “Unforgiven.” For all intents and purposes it is a western, but it is so much more. As you watch the film you realize that you don’t clutch your stomach, roll your eyes and die when you are shot with a .45 caliber bullet. It hurts like Hell and sometimes it takes a long, awful, time to die. You realize that killing men, even if they deserved it, weighs heavily on the human mind and spirit, especially as you age and your own mortality becomes clearer. The picture shatters the mythology of the western, which is especially ironic considering the filmmaker who birthed it had a large part in creating the myth to begin with. It is a brilliant picture, and began the rebirth of Clint Eastwood’s career as a filmmaker.

What Mr. Stallone has done with “Rocky Balboa” is nearly as impressive. Mr. Stallone is, in a sense, the “King of Sequels”. Let’s face it, he practically invented the genre. And each sequel for the most part has gotten worse and worse. “Rocky V” was basically abysmal. Mr. Stallone abandoned the character-driven drama after “Rocky II” in favor of the big-budget, mindless entertainment action film. This was fine at the time and the point where he was in his career, and many people loved the movies as was evident at the box office. With the uninspired “Rocky V,” he tried to meld the styles of the first two films with the third and fourth films, with disastrous results. It was a box office and critical dud.

Mr. Stallone has been in limbo in Hollywood for many, many, years. The only other significant hit he has had in all that time has been “Cliffhanger,” which was an entertaining if mindless film. He made a huge impression on this reviewer when he performed in “Copland” which I thought was his best acting work since “Rocky.” But then Mr. Stallone slipped back into his standard fare and direct to DVD films like “Eye See You” and “Avenging Angelo.” It truly seemed like he was at the end.

Mr. Stallone realized that he was disgusted with how the “Rocky” series had ended with “Rocky V”. He wanted to make the new picture years ago, but with his star fading, nobody would finance a new “Rocky.” So the future looked dim. Fortunately, according to Mr. Stallone, a new group came into MGM and greenlighted “Rocky Balboa.” And thank goodness they did, because this movie is a treat and redemption for Mr. Stallone.

I mentioned “transcending the genre” earlier in this article because this is, at the end of the day, a boxing picture. But it is so much more. It is a statement on aging, loss, and regret. Even in it’s darkest moments it has glimmers of hope. It sets up possibilities. And it exhibits the benefits of kindness to all things. Rocky, although he is foremost in his soul a fighter, is a kind person. This is the quality that we have loved about him throughout all of the pictures. He is a kind, decent, not too bright person, who will still do his best to kick your ass when he signs on the dotted line. There is a purity, a simplicity to his life that appeals to all especially in these troubled times that we live in.

I do not want to reveal too much of the plot for the people who have not seen it. But let me say that Rocky is at the lowest point of his life. This was a great choice by Mr. Stallone, as it does justify the entire story. While the entire plot is a bit suspect at his age, Mr. Stallone adds deft touches here and there to make the entire picture, and event, more plausible. There are casting choices that true boxing fans will enjoy very much. I highly, highly recommend this picture especially to true boxing fans as well as “Rocky” fans. It is terrific.

Mr. Stallone does the best acting work perhaps in his entire career. The only performances I believe are close to this were “Copland” and the original “Rocky”. Burt Young is terrific as usual as Paulie and newcomer Geraldine Hughes is spot-on as “Little Marie.”

The movie is a must-see for all “Rocky” fans, and a holiday treat for all. Even if you’re a skeptic, go see “Rocky Balboa.” It is one of the biggest surprises of the year.