I'm not a huge Rocky fan, so I made sure that when I did go and see this I had the G-Man with me, far more of a Rocky fan than I am. However I am a Sylvester Stallone fan, a fan when he's challenged a bit more in the acting arena than he so often is. I keep shouting about the talent he's shown in Cop Land and how you really must see it, and with the build up to Rocky Balboa I was thinking that maybe we were going to see much more of that talent revealed.
So the titles rolled and we return to see Rocky in his sixties, living a simple life running his restaurant and reminiscing of the old days to the patrons. His son is grown up and working in a proper office job, and his wife Adrian has passed away leaving him carrying a sadness that he just can't break free of.
Big thanks again to the staff of Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema for helping me with these reviews, as always a great cinema experience was had and I munched on a hotdog and some nachos and very hot jalapenos. Thanks for that G-Man!
At the start of the film I felt that it was quite jumpy and I thought we were in for a rough ride, but it settled down quickly and there were only a few moments where I thought that there could have been a little more exposition. For example I felt we missed out on how Rocky was able to regain his license and in the turnaround of his son's attitude could have been explored a little more. None of these moments really hurt the film, but they did detract from it a little.
What was noticeable was the quality of Stallone's acting, and something that the G-Man commented on after the film as well. He provides a wonderfully warm and heartfelt performance. You can see the weariness and pain in his face and the way he talks to his customers night after night in the restaurant. He's telling the same stories, he's tired of being noticed for what he was and life really has hit him some low punches.
We join him and Paulie as they undertake the yearly tour of places that remind Rocky of the past, places filled with memories and emotion and the sadness shows clearly in his performance. These are incredibly touching moments, and the first half of the film shows just how sad Rocky has become, both inwardly and in life.
These moments are written and acted well, with some incredibly touching speeches to Paulie when he pushes him too far on a couple of occassions, the boxing licence committee meeting, and most importantly to his son talking about how tough life can be and what the measure of a man really is.
It's this last speech that really got to me as it is so particularly apt in my life at the moment, and it marked just one of the many moments where the film touched me and I felt emotion welling up.
There's a scene where Rocky talks about having stuff left in the basement with Paulie, and Paulie presses him too much once again, and this time the emotion comes to the surface. It's here that Stallone's performance really comes through and he shows a proud and incredibly pained man who's struggling with himself.
Although there's less power in the performance as the film progresses, I think it's this scene that defines the character of this new Rocky and defines it with real, believable emotion.
The story is very good, relying on characters we know and never trying to over explain itself. Once we discover where Rocky is we see him being to make decisions to move forward in life instead of being caught in the past, and this is where the desire for another fight returns.
This brings the tension with his son to the fore which has been played out in the first half of the film as a disconnected relationship. He resents the fact that he's viewed as the heavyweight champion's son and not his own man. It is a great plot device to have in the film, but it doesn't really play out that strongly. There is the moment that brings us the excellent speech from Rocky about life, but his son's reconciliation with him is played out quite simply. However, this is a Rocky film and rather than seeing scenes of him wrestling with the issue, he returns a little prouder and closer to his father and their issues seem to be very much resolved.
There's a little side story here with the son of Maria, a lady who he's becoming close to, and how he is taking him under his wing to keep on the right track and to possibly fill the gap created by the distance of his son. Although you can see that this is happening, there's never a great exploration of this, and again this is just accepted and without tension between the two boys.
When the training starts the music kicks in and you know that this part of the film is over, now we're facing the fight, and this marks another point where I felt a little short changed. There just doesn't seem to be enough of Rocky struggling to train, although they are great sequences, it seems that he's in great shape anyway and doesn't do that much to get to the level required of the fight. That said he's doing some incredible weight training on screen and with the Rocky theme finally kicking in you finally feel the moment has arrived.
Then the fight begins, and initially I felt that this was another bumpy beginning. The editing is quite sharp, the camera work jumpy and shaky, and there are a few punches that look badly thrown and taken. Yet quickly these feelings change and the fight scenes are interspersed with Rocky's memories of other fights in his life, not just those in the ring, and it really does ramp up the power.
It was around this point that I started to feel myself grimacing at punches landed and willing Rocky to win, and I realised that the film had caught me all along. I had been so pulled into the character that I was now totally rooting for him and urging him forward, just like the crowd and the audience. That's a great sign for a film, it does it without you realising.
At the end of the film I found myself wondering if this was the way I had wanted it to end, and I was left with a feeling that I really had wanted it to turn out differently. Yet when we talked about it we realised that if it had then we would have felt cheated and the rest of the film would have been cheapened. This way definitely gives us the better film and the more satisfying, if somewhat sad, conclusion to the Rocky story.
The cinematography of the film was good and gave a strong mood and feel to the characters and where they were in their journeys. Musically you can hear the Rocky theme throughout much of the film, fading in and out in different guises, most notably played slowly on the piano as Rocky looks onto his wife's grave.
The direction was good, but nothing spectacular, it's like Rocky himself, strong and forthright without anything fancy. During the fight the mixing of past and present is where the best comes out and there are a few stylised moments such as black and white mixed with only the red of the fighters blood, and although they are slightly too noticeable the power of the fight keeps you pulled right in.
Overall I really did like the film. We see a heartfelt and strong performance from Stallone playing a very well written and fleshed out character of Rocky that is both touching and empowering. The film will sit really well with Rocky fans and provide a wonderful ending to the series, yet I do think there will be a struggle with that ending and perhaps that's the best way it should end. I did enjoy it despite the feelings I had of some moments being missed. This film has quite a few good messages to be heard, has a great heart, and will most definitely touch you.
Edinburgh Ocean Vue Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details
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