Jan 5, 2007

Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa is back to his roots in this last movie. The boxing champion of Philadelphia is back in the old neighborhood, looking for meaning in his life after the death of his wife Adrian. He's drifting apart from his son and living in the past, reliving the glory days in the boxing tales he tells the customers in his restaurant, Adrian's.

Rocky leads a lonely life, with exactly two people to call family -- his son Rocky Jr and his brother-in-law Paulie; and his friends and employees at the restaurant his only other human connection. The rest of New York sees him as Rocky Balboa, the Italian Stallion, the local champion. He hears `Yo, Rock!' on the streets -- people asking for autographs.

He befriends a woman who works at a nearby bar. She says he's met her before -- he has trouble remembering until she reminds him he walked her home one night, took a cigarette from her and told her to stop smoking. He remembers her as Little Marie, the girl who shouted `Screw you, creepo!' at him. She wonders why he wants her as a friend; he just needs a friend, someone to keep out the loneliness in his life no one else can stop.

Then, suddenly everyone's talking about a computer-simulated fight between Rocky and Mason `The Line' Dixon, the reigning undefeated world champion, in which the computer Rocky, in his prime, beats the hell out of computer Dixon. Suddenly Rocky is reminded of what he loves doing best, fighting, and wants to start training again so he can do small, local fights. To do this, he has to get a license from the boxing commission in the city. He has passed all their tests with flying colours, but they don't want to give him a license -- they tell him they're watching out for his best interests. Rocky gets emotional, asking the panel at the commission why they have the right to stop a man from following his dreams.

Dixon's managers have another idea -- an exhibition match between their client and Rocky, a match that will get Dixon the publicity he desperately needs -- with no challenger good enough to beat him, boxing fans aren't exactly knocking down the walls to see him, as they tell him. They approach Rocky with an invitation to fight in Las Vegas, leaving him with a dilemma -- should he embrace this chance to go down like a warrior, or pass up the chance to avoid embarrassing himself and the people around him?

From the scene at the commission, and throughout the movie, I kept getting a sense of why Rocky the man, and not just Rocky the boxer, is a champion at heart. His defining quality is to be able to see the people around him fall short, and to inspire them with nothing but his heart and his compassion. His son comes to him and shouts at him, blaming him for overshadowing his life. Rocky's reply cuts straight to the heart of their relationship: he'd held the infant Rocky Jr in the palm of one hand and promised Adrian that he was going to grow into a great man, better than anyone who came before. He'd watched Rocky Jr grow up and it was a privilege, because he was the perfect son. But when he grew into a man, he changed, because he let the people around him tell him what to think and what to worry about. Rocky shows his son the way to be a champion, and it's about getting back up and keeping up the fight no matter how hard you get hit.

Rocky accepts the fight (of course), and we get to see the training again, only this time the goal is not to build the perfect boxer's body: it's to build up all of Rocky's power, so that when he punches Dixon, Dixon should feel as if he's been kissed by a freight train (Rocky's trainer's words, heh).

Then comes the Big Fight, as always. It's one hell of a fight, as always. It pushes you to the edge of your seat and beyond. And in the end, it's not about who wins, but about Rocky, who has the crowd on his side all along. They can feel his champion heart -- they can see it in every punch he throws, and more, every time he gets back up to take more punishment from Dixon.

The first Rocky movie won an Oscar, I think for Stallone's writing. It had heart. The sequels had muscle and youth and energy and flash -- big bang for the bucks. They were enjoyable. But this last movie is enjoyable and has heart -- Stallone has done it again, by going back to the old values. Watch and enjoy.