Monday, December 25, 2006

Rocky Balboa

Some artists become so closely associated with their most archetypal characters that they remain unable to live that shadow down. Sylvester Stallone’s knockout masterpiece Rocky Balboa is nothing less than the summation of a career…and not just that of the titular pugilist. Sylvester Stallone’s career has been a non-stop series of extreme highs (Rocky, First Blood, Copland) and extreme lows (Judge Dredd, Stop or My Mom Will Shoot, Rhinestone). He has been embraced and ridiculed, often by the same people for making choices affected more by ego than creative impulse. The supposed swan song for his most revered character, Rocky V, was met mostly with derision by both Stallone’s fans and the critical community at large. Stallone himself has expressed extreme disappointment with the film, and for years was worried that he had perhaps wronged the legacy of the character in some way. With Rocky Balboa, Stallone has set out to right that wrong, and he’s done so with glorious results.

Looking punchy and weathered, Rocky (and Stallone by extension) is long retired, managing a neighborhood restaurant and mourning his years-dead wife and muse Adrian. We meet up with Rocky as he’s going through his yearly ritual of visiting locations throughout Philly of nostalgic and romantic import. Adrian’s brother, the ever-put-upon Paulie, has grown weary of the reverie, as his memories are plagued with the disease of regret. Rocky, always the bleary-eyed dreamer, longs for the fairy tale days of being champion and having the woman of his dreams on his arm. It claws at him from inside and aches to be released, if only for a bit.

How Stallone pulls off Rocky’s return to the ring is best left for the viewers to discover. It’s at once implausible and utterly believable, mostly due to Stallone himself. His direction is crisp, intimate and nearly flawless. The central performance is the best he’s ever delivered, buoyed by what I can only assume is his personal connection to the character. After all, Stallone has as much to prove as his fictional counterpart. Two legacies hang in the balance.

Rocky Balboa is quite nearly the mirror image of the original film. Its early moments are quiet, poignant and poetic. Stallone has a breakdown with Paulie in the meat house that is probably the single greatest moment of acting in his entire career. In this instance, he is channeling all the animal and primal method instincts of the late Marlon Brando, and it’s exciting to behold the aging actor rediscovering the innate power of his acting prowess. The creation of this late-career palooka is a stunning achievement, and Stallone is to be admired and praised for it.

That Rocky Balboa succeeds at all is a surprise. That it is, in fact, a major film, certainly one of the year’s best, may in fact be a miracle.


Blogger The Man said...

i have not seen the movie yet, so i was skimming through your post so that i don't spoil the movie, i wrote something about Rocky, if you are interested to read about, check it out

6:28 AM  
Blogger The Man said...

Hi i wrote something about Rocky, if you are interested check it out at

6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally agree man. Great post.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The moment in the meathouse totally took me off-guard. I know it sounds goofy saying this about a Rocky film but that moment, for me, was one of the most powerfully acted moments I've ever witnessed on screen. Well done Rock.

5:09 PM  
Anonymous ADRIAN!! said...

Just think for a minute that Rocky 2-5 never excisted, I beleive that he would have been up for an acadamy nomination for his acting. But that will not happen as we all know how uptight these meatheads who run the show can be when it comes labels i.e Rocky VI.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Keith Konior said...

The best love letters are, almost without doubt, the ones that arrive completely unexpected. That is how I think of the wonderful "Rocky Balboa." It is a love letter (maybe even an apology) to one of the most beloved American screen characters of all time as well as to his fans. Stallone has lamented that it was even harder to get "Balboa" made than the original. I cannot even begin to imagine the immense pride and satisfaction Sly must feel with this remarkable achievement.

12:44 PM  

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