December 27, 2006

Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

This is easily one of the more pleasant surprises that I have encountered on the big screen for awhile. I was among those who scoffed at the very idea of a new Rocky movie. I remember really liking the original, and having a childhood enjoyment for IV (loved Ivan Drago), but I really don't have any solid memories of any of them, and I know I skipped the fifth one. My interest in the character is quite low, and I was not impressed with the trailers I saw, but I dutifully made my way to the cinema to take in this sixth, and hopefully final, story of the perenial underdog. What I found was a movie that was heartfelt and genuine, a movie that was well worth my time and made me care for the battered pugilist.

Like I said, my memories of the previous Rocky movies is slight at best, so I went in with a relatively clean slate. I found that knowledge of those earlier films was not an absolute necessity, and Rocky Balboa is a movie that survives based on its own merits. It is a film that is more than Stallone looking to make a quick buck off the franchise, or trying to rekindle his career with one of his more famous characters. This is more of a love song to the film that rocketed him to fame, a movie that isn't about the boxing, but about flawed individuals trying to retain their integrity and keep moving forward.

Rocky Balboa finds the aging Rocky living a modest life in Philadelphia where he runs a restaurant where he shares his stories with the patrons. His closest relationship is with Adrian, dead for a few years, while his relationship with his son withers. He is a man seeking personal connections who is left sadly unfulfilled. He tries to reconnect with his son who doesn't have the time, and until he fortuitously encounters a woman, Marie, he knew years earlier as a young girl, it would seem he is doomed to loneliness.

This is a movie that is about the characters and less about the action. It is squarely anchored on Stallone's aging shoulders. The Rocky character is seeking to move forward with his life, and that means he has to step into the ring one more time. In order to feed his desires, he only seeks to do some local, small time fights, perhaps as a way to give back to the community. He winds up in an exhibition match with the reigning heavyweight champ. The reasons for the fight strike me as a little contrived, but work well in the structure of the movie. First there is a simulated fight done by ESPN pitting Rocky, in his prime, against Mason Dixon, the current champ. The fight has Rock coming out on top, this gets people thinking. Secondly, Mason's handlers are seeking to help get some credibility for their man who's popularity has waned with the absence of real competition, when they hear of Rocky getting back in the ring, they see an opportunity to foster some good will with the boxing world.

This is a movie that worms its way into your heart with its blend of inspirational speeches and surprisingly subtle acting from our lead. It is a movie that finds Stallone not only starring, but writing and directing. The resulting film gives a look into a surprisingly effective creative vision. It is filled with moments that make you want to cheer, as well as moments that will make you feel for the battered boxer.

Bottomline. I was completely surprised that I enjoyed it. It may not be the best movie of the year, but it is solid entertainment that will manipulate your emotions and remind you of why we liked the guy in the first place.



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