Wednesday, January 17, 2007

ROCKY BALBOA - Bina007's review

Earlier this week, Nikolai gave an emotional response to ROCKY BALBOA that fully encapsulated the emotional high I received from watching the flick. To that end, it's a brilliantly insightful review. But after a few days to come down off the high, I thought I'd chip in my thoughts. Bit first, a disclaimer. I love ROCKY. I had no beef with the decision of the Academy to give ROCKY the Best Picture nod in 1977 - over the heads of TAXI DRIVER, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and NETWORK. To me ROCKY is just a brilliant film - great characters, great narrative arc, great emotional pull. Sometimes a pop. film just gets it right. Not every movie has to be BABEL.

To me, the Rocky movies are about an under-dog pulling himself up through sheer hard work and endurance. It is the American Dream. The exhileration we feel when Rocky wins a fight is down to the fact that we know how hard he has trained to get there. And it's not even about the winning: it's about staying the distance.

Naturally, after the farce of ROCKY V I was worried about the follow up but those fears were groundless. Sty Stallone proves once again that he is one of the unsung great screen-writers of our time. He places Rocky in an entirely believable situation. He's doing fine for cash, running a fancy restaurent and posing for cheesy pictures with his fans. But he's a lonely widower, estranged from his son, and feeling at loose ends without the boxing. To that end, ROCKY BALBOA is a movie about a man getting back to what makes him a man - rather than a shadow - and the movie is full of tremendous speeches about what it is to be a free individual and to have self-respect. Sly Stallone's skill is that they don't ever sound preachy - they always feel natural to the moment. The classic example is Rocky's speech to the boxing commission where he is asking for their permission to fight again. A moving and profound monologue springs out of a natural situation.

Fans will be sad to find Rocky's wife Adrian has died of cancer but I think will be satisfied with Rocky's shy courtship of an old neighbourhood friend. They will also, I think, find the relationship with Rocky's son nicely handled - providing the emotional heart of the film. Some of the narrative choices felt a little more forced. Rocky's new squeeze has a delinquent son who will be reformed by Rocky's patronage - this felt a little too DANGEROUS MINDS for me. Just too sickly sweet. And in terms of the new characters, I was a little disappointed in Rocky's opponent, Mason "The Line" Dixon. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that where once we had evil Communist robo-boxers, we now have a whiny, 2-D, largely untested champion and a far more politically correct ending. Shame.

Cinematically, where ROCKY BALBOA works is in pandering to the nostalgia of the fans. A lot of the old kitsch seventies sound-track is included and the basic narrative arc of the film is the same. At the end, we even have some crazy credits showing fans doing the trade-mark Rocky air-punching atop the stairs. This stuff was adrenaline-pumping twenty years ago and it still works, thirty years later. The weaker parts were the avowedly new shots. The fight features a lot of splicing between colour and black and white scenes with a little SIN CITY style colour high-lighting for fun. Frankly, this looks okay but ROCKY BALBOA just doesn't need it. It's an old-fashioned film with old-fashioned virtues: solid story, memorable characters. You don't need to be try to emulate newer shooting techniques. ROCKY was never RAGING BULL.

Still, this is all quibbling around the edges of my favourite movie of the year so far. I laughed, I cried, I punched the air, I felt exhilerated. Few movies can do that. Few movies provide a truly visceral and positive experience. And if it seems unthinkable that we will have another ROCKY, at least we can now end with a movie worthy of the franchise, rather than ROCKY V.

ROCKY BALBOA is on release in the US, Canada, Israel, Georgia, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Italy, Norway and Spain. It opens in the UK and Sweden on the 19th and in France, the Netherlands, Estonia and Russia on the 25th. It opens in Belgium on Jan 31st, Iceland and Venezuela on Feb 2nd and in Germany and Austria on the 9th. It opens in Singapore on March 1st, Mexica on March 2nd, Poland on March 9th, Brazil on March 16th, and Japan 21st April.

1 comment:

  1. Totally agree. I had a great time at this flick.