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USA 2006
Directed by
Sylvester Stallone
102 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
3.5 stars

Rocky Balboa

Synopsis: Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is well past his glory days as a boxer. Running a small restaurant named for his dead wife Adrian, he spends his days telling stories to his patrons, busying himself in the community, and grieving. When a simulated match between himself and the current heavyweight champion, Mason “The Line” Dixon (Antonio Tarver), suggests that he’d win, he decides to return to boxing. Then Dixon’s minders come to him with an offer. Can he go the distance again? 

The third century monk Abbot Pastor once said there are two things one must hate to become free of the world: an easy life and vainglory. These words seem to underline the philosophy of Rocky Balboa.

First off, I’ve never seen a Rocky film in my life. I’ve heard the first two are pretty good, the second two are watchable, and Rocky V is an embarrassment to all involved. That’s about all I know. I’m definitely going to be watching the first two now, maybe the rest too, coz I really loved the hell out of this film.

This is a story of lost people finding themselves and their self-respect. Rocky has lost his wife, he’s full of the emotions of care and love but they’ve got nowhere much to go. His son has a good job but lives forever in the shadow of his father’s fame and doesn’t feel like he has any real identity of his own. And Mason Dixon has never had a real fight in his life. He’s too good, nobody can match him, and his minders have taken over his life. A telling moment comes when Mason talks to his old trainer who tells him simply that he can have no pride in himself until he’s actually tested. (Nietzsche would be proud.) Obviously that’s where Rocky comes in.

Rocky Balboa is Stallone summing up his philosophy on life, at least, it seems that way. He gives Rocky moments of regret and grief and a truly powerful speech about the importance of self-respect to identity. Rocky has had a life that has not been perfect but it is shown to be so much more valid than the smooth running life of ease that others enjoy. He’s earned his place and he’s at ease with being a celebrity living on past glories. But the inability to completely express his grief at the loss of his wife pushes him into wanting to try boxing again. He’s looking for an outlet to express who he is. The contrast with Mason, who is the heavyweight champion but is disliked because he’s never faced any real competition, is clear. Mason has yet to earn his stripes, Rocky earned them years ago. But since this is a Rocky film, Rocky will give him more than he expected and the fight will be intense. Much like the film, as Stallone infuses his performance with such humanity and dignity that anyone who has seen any of the turkeys he’s been in recently will be shocked.

Yet the fisticuffs aren’t all that interesting compared to the character work that comes before it. The basic decency of Rocky, especially as he starts to take care of Marie (Geraldine Hughes) and her son Steps (James Francis Kelly III) is front and centre. He’s not interested in her as a replacement for Adrian, he just recognizes that people are deserving of care. He’s been through the wringer and he knows the worth of people. The way people are shown as inherently worthwhile is beautiful and,  surprisingly, never corny. In fact, the film manages to avoid being corny almost the entire way through. Its main failing is that Mason Dixon never materialises as a fully-fledged character in his own right. He has a few scenes that use him to illustrate the theme of self-respect coming through testing your limits, but it would have had more punch, so to speak, if he was less two-dimensional. The fight itself ends up focusing on Rocky, while it would have been far more interesting to see more of Mason’s reaction to getting his arse handed to him by a sixty year old. (Though it has to be said, Stallone is looking awfully good for sixty. It’s a brave man who steps into a ring with a guy that ripped and bulked up.)

I was surprised. I’ve always understood Rocky films to be about the boxing, but really, the fight isn’t found in the boxing ring. Rocky Balboa is a very good film about decent people struggling to find their way through life. The big fight may be the destination but the journey is what’s interesting.




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