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Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

The sixth in the Rocky series, “Rocky Balboa,” finally came to Poland on March 9, 2007. I was much looking forward to the film; despite the idea of Rocky still fighting at 60, I held high expectations.

There are few movies that live up to my high expectations, mostly because I expect too much from what a movie can do. Ultimately, there are flaws. Rocky Balboa has flaws. However, Rocky Balboa lived up to my hype; for me, Rocky Balboa was one of the best films I’ve seen in years and is the most inspiring movie since Rudy.

“It’s not about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you get hit, and keep moving forward.”

The premise is simple, if not a little incredible; Adrianna, Rocky’s wife, died a few years back. With the little continuity Rocky Balboa has with the previous film, Rocky went bankrupt. But Rocky keeps moving forward and now owns an italian restaurant. He lives in a South Philly brownstone, a chin-up bar in the back yard and his turtles, Cuff and Link, still alive. Rocky’s son has a white-collar job where his boss pushes him around. Rocky grieves over the loss of Adrian, visitng his grave and dragging Paulie around South Philly to scenes of the first movie: where he first saw Adrian, where they went ice skating (now torn down). Rocky tells his old fight stories to the restaurant customers and Paulie’s still a miserable drunk. When he walks around Philly, people greet him with “Hey Rock!” and ask for pictures and autographs. He gets involved in the life of “Little Marie,” who was a teenager in the first Rocky film, and who tends bar at one of Rocky’s old hangouts. Something starts nagging at Rocky; the idea that he’s stagnating, falling behind: Not moving forward. He decides he needs one last fight.

“No Little Marie; it’s not gonna be alright.”

Unlike Rocky II-IV, this is a small film; it feels much like the first one, with heavy emphasis on character development. Sylvester Stallone wrote and directed this one, as he did the first one, and his direction bears some warts and gaffes; the slo-mo editing is a little over done and some characters like Little Marie’s son is introduced but is not developed much further. But it’s the smallness of the film, especially in contrast with the bombastic sequels, that helps make this film work. It’s about aging but not about glory; it’s about redemption even when redemption is not needed; it’s about inspiring yourself and others with living life as you want to live it; it’s about perseverence.

I read an article where Stallone is interviewed by a Christian magazine. In the interview, Stallone argues that the film is laden with Christian imagery:

“I’ve always been a Christian. I’ve always been fascinated with the ongoing battle in one’s soul?the constant forces of temptation, and the crusade inside to override it. And the mistakes people make and then trying to elevate yourself to redeem yourself. It’s back and forth, back and forth redemption. So when I write a character, that’s a story point. You know the man wants to be a boxer; that’s the simple part. But inside, the internal storm, that has always fascinated me. But what do we call upon to help us get through these trials and tribulations of everyday life? That’s what I try to do with Rocky… [Rocky] is very Christian-like in all his ideals, and the way he turns the other cheek all the time. He never has a malicious thing to say about anybody. And he takes such abuse, but in the end he triumphs through example rather than through bravado. He lets his actions speak volumes, rather than his words.”

There is much about Rocky Balboa that has the ideals of not just Christianity, but all religions that teach good works, humility, and the possibility of redemption through living a good moral, ethical life. Rocky fights not just for himself, but to show his wayward son to fight back even when the odds are against you. I suppose 300 could have a similar meaning, but Rocky does it without the fake monsters and yelling.

A last question from the interview sums up the sentiment of the movie:

“What do you want audiences to take away from Rocky Balboa?

Stallone: That life is full of peaks and valleys, and when you reach a certain age you have to make some strong decisions on how to live the last of your life. You may feel as though your worth has come and gone, that you don’t contribute that much to society any more. But that’s not true. This is about fighting for respect, the ability to go on and be a constructive and useful citizen to yourself and to the people you love.

It’s a story about symbols and metaphor, and how older people wonder, “Has the best of life come and gone?” I believe it hasn’t. I just want to show that the heart is the last thing to age in somebody. You still have that fire inside, and it needs to be released. But often society goes, “No, you had your moments, so just move on and watch the parade go by.”

I’m a sucker for inspirational movies; Rudy may be my favorite film. Immediately, Rocky Balboa is in my top 10. At the end of the credits, there’s a picture of Rocky standing on the Art Museum steps, the snow falling down and the dusk settling in. I walked out of the theater and into that same dusk and, despite it being March, it was cold and the sky was cloudy. How could I not think about the message of the movie?

My The Waterglass rating: 99% full.

5 comments to Movie Review: Rocky Balboa

  • Actually, from how you’ve described the film, “300″ isn’t anything like it. “300″ has a different message, a different theme, and tells a different story.

  • jill

    rudy? that’s your favorite movie? i thought i knew you, but now i feel like i’m blogging with a stranger.

  • Morgan

    I liked the movie when it was called “Raging Bull”.

  • Oh, what you don’t know about Josh could fill up the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    He’s got secrets.

    Deep, DARK secrets.

    Best not to know too much.

  • Joshua

    Yup, RUDY. I can still hear the chant from the Notre Dame stadium… RU-DY! RU-DY! RUUUU-DY! RUUUU-DY!