Review: Rocky (1976)

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Oh, Carl you look so small and weak in this film, it’s amazing what hitting the roids can do for you!

Written By: Sylvester Stallone
Directed By: John G. Avildsen

In the combat sport of mixed martial arts it has long been debated what is the best way to score a fight, round by round or as a whole. Rocky is the film equivalent of that sports conundrum, because while it does hold up round by round there is something about the emotion of its final fifteen minutes that causes you to forget what came before. There are rough patches in Rocky, so while it may struggle through some of the opening rounds, maybe even get knocked down once or twice in the middle rounds, it finishes off the fight in dominant fashion, blitzing your senses in the final rounds. I am a believer in the round by round system so I can’t ignore where Rocky does misstep, but that still leaves Rocky as a film that struggled, but ultimately achieved a knockout.

Something I have to get off my chest right away is that from a pure technical standpoint the boxing in Rocky is atrocious. No one throws punches that way, and I’m talking about both Rocky and Apollo here, except for drunk dudes or people who only know how to throw wild haymakers. For a pugilist such as myself it takes something special to get me over how horrendous the actual boxing was. Rocky has that something special, because I don’t think technical boxing would have worked as dramatically in a big boxing match as allegory for the little man knocked down theme. That’s why as much as it pains me, I can overlook the terrible boxing in the big fight, the training sequences remain inexcusable, because it serves a purpose. Rocky needs to throw everything he has at Apollo, throw punches that in real life would kill a man, and Apollo needs to still be standing. Rocky needs to take shots that would turn his brain to mush on the spot, because it is important that he is battered and bruised but doesn’t go down for good. The little man needs to reach for his dream, be swatted down by the giant, but discover the real truth, that he has found something that matters more, love and self-respect.

Bill Conti provides a rousing score to Rocky, his stirring and emotional sound set the template for sports based movies for years to come. In a lot of ways Rocky seems like a giant cliche, but that isn’t the case. While it borrowed many elements from earlier sports movies, it was one of the few to make the focus on the people and their emotion, not the sport or the action. The score, the story, every basic idea put forth in Rocky would go on to be heavily borrowed and would inspire countless cliche ridden pieces. But, Rocky was around before the cliches started, it rested with the all time great sports movies and it still maintains that status today.

The cast of Rocky borders from decent to good. There isn’t any actor who brings the film down, but outside of Stallone, Shire and Young the rest of the cast is never really touched upon. It is a minor weakness in Rocky that so many of the supporting characters end up one note caricatures, especially Mickey and Apollo. But, aside from the above, some of the choreography and a few times where I thought Burt Young went too over the top in his portrayal of Paulie there isn’t much to dislike about Rocky.

There really is something inspirational and true about Rocky. It looks like Philadelphia, it embodies what we think the American dream should be. It is a great rags to respect story that touches on familiar issues such as love, family and of course, self-respect. Rocky is an example of the little movie that could, but unlike its titular character the film managed to score a knockout with audiences everywhere and continues to knock them out to this very day.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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