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Rocky Balboa

2007-04-14 12:13

Ageing boxing hero Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) has settled into a life of running his small Italian restaurant, spending afternoons at his late wife’s grave, and wandering his native Philadelphia in a haze of fond but discontented memories. When a computer boxing simulation shows that Balboa would, in his prime, have defeated the unpopular current World Heavyweight Champion, Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), promoters seize an opportunity to arrange an exhibition match in Las Vegas.


Rocky Balboa. You remember - that bum from working class Philadelphia, the one who used to be a muscle guy for a local bookie before fate handed him a golden glove. He became the Heavyweight Champion of the World when he fought Apollo Creed for the title. One of the greatest, most tenacious brawlers ever. He wasn’t a pretty fighter, but no matter how hard they hit him, he just kept coming back. He went down a hundred times, but the big lug just kept getting back up.

There’s a certain type of nostalgia in the world of boxers, when they recount the stuff of legend. Rocky Balboa is drenched in such a nostalgic sauce. There are so many beats in Rocky Balboa that resonate with moments in the first film, it’s hard to imagine any newcomer to the franchise making sense of it. It’s essentially a film of touchpoints, moments of redemption that pay off for the fans.

Rocky Balboa has more weight when viewed as the conclusion to that six-film journey, which has taken thirty years in real-time to tell. And what a story it has turned out to be, with some the most memorable yet overlooked character performances in popular cinema.

If Oscars were handed out for character portrayals over careers, surely Burt Young would be a contender. Simultaneously annoying, hateful, hilarious and pathetic, his “Paulie” is one of moviedom’s most consistent and confounding losers.

And it’s a shame that Sly Stallone made the Rambo movies – or rather, that they became so immensely popular. That Reagan-era image of an all-conquering muscle-bound mumbler belies his true talent as an empathetic actor and first class screenwriter.

Having penned the original Oscar-winning Rocky, and turned out top-class performances in films like Copland and Nighthawks, Stallone is a writer and actor of unlikely impact, never more so than in his seminal Rocky guise.

Though Rocky Balboa is too short to be its progenitor’s true equal – and to be honest some scenes feel a little truncated - Stallone pulls most of it off handsomely with some inspired character set pieces.

Balboa’s endearing quality is that, for him, life’s complexities can be reduced to simple ideals. He believes in loyalty, family, and honesty. As amazing as his redemption may be, he firmly believes that the business of life itself, though difficult, isn’t very complicated. At one point, he protests a decision by the boxing commission to refuse him a licence: “Yo, don't I got some rights?” he jabs, to which the commissioner replies: “What rights do you think you're referring to?” Balboa: “Rights, like in that official piece of paper they wrote down the street there?” Commissioner: “That's the Bill of Rights.”

Some stylistic trademarks of the series remain, though toned down somewhat. It just wouldn’t be a Rocky movie without the training montage, would it? The dialogue is witty, endearing and touching in places. And the big fight scene is notably less vicious than those in Rocky II and IV. Those fights were on par with Reservoir Dogs in respect of their brutality, so that’s probably a good thing.

And yet, as close as Rocky Balboa gets to emulating the emotional depth and originality of Rocky (1976), the truth is that those fans who remember the series for “Clubber Lang” (Mr. T) or “Ivan Drago” (Dolph Lundgren) won’t really be looking forward to a sixth Rocky movie.

Just as well. This film is not for them. The Rocky franchise is now truly complete, and our hero’s profound redemption is made manifest by this competent and loving final bow. Anyone who identifies with the cinematic lore of Rocky Balboa will appreciate the film deeply; but if your eyes are dry by the time the movie ends, you’ve never truly understood the enigma that is The Italian Stallion.

- Anton Marshall
Rocky Balboa is a real treat for fans of the series - a well executed finale, drenched in nostalgic sauce.

CHARLES NZIMA 2007/01/31 8:09 AM
Rocky Balboe Excellent movie,action and tripple minded.
noreen 2007/01/31 11:50 AM
rocky Iam still crying rocky was is and always will be the greatest and no one else other than Sly could have ever played the role as he did so sad to see us getting old
Sanjay Mahabeer 2007/02/17 8:23 AM
Rocky Balboa One of the best movies Stallone has ever made. Supported by an excellent cast. Loaded with humour (I especially liked when an intoxicated Paulie enters Adrian's restaurant and when asked if he has a reservation, he replies "Why, do I look like an Indian?"), feeling and warmth and of course action. This is one memorable movie which I will definitely buy on DVD.
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