Rocky (1976)

24 Feb


Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Rocky” is a true underdog story, inside and out. By that I mean the movie is about a novice boxer getting a shot at the title, and this involving, excellent film beat the odds and became the little film that could. It was written by Sylvester Stallone, who had many rejected screenplays, but caught the attention of United Artists with his screenplay for “Rocky,” which was mainly inspired by the 1975 Muhammad Ali-Chuck Wepner fight. Stallone set to attach himself as the star, while United Artists wanted to go with James Caan. So, the skeptical United Artists gave the production a smaller budget, around $1 million. And then when the finished film was released, it received great reviews, word-of-mouth, and ten Academy Award nominations, winning three (Best Film Editing, Best Director, and the coupe de gras—Best Picture). “Rocky” had beaten the odds.

“Rocky” is a great film that deserved all the attention it got, and the respect that it continues to get, as one of the best sports films of all time. But while “sports film” can technically by the accurate term for “Rocky,” it’s also a great portrait of a hero, and a tender love story. Either way you look at it, it’s very effective.

Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is a small-time boxer who boxes for money to make ends meet. He lives in a small apartment in inner-city Philadelphia and works as a collector for loan shark Gazzo (Joe Spinell). Rocky could’ve been a great, well-known fighter, but blew it all away. But all that’s on his mind is winning the heart of Adrian (Talia Shire), the shy sister of his friend Paulie (Burt Young). She works at the pet shop, sold Rocky a couple of turtles and goldfish, and is amused by Rocky’s at-least-attempt at humor. But she’s painfully shy and isn’t sure about going out with Rocky.

After some harsh action by Paulie to get her out of his house, Adrian goes on a date with Rocky on Thanksgiving night. They hit it off really well as Adrian finds that Rocky is a good person and steps out of her shell to give him a chance. One of the more tender scenes in the movie is when Rocky arranges for ten minutes of ice-skating (she skates, he jogs alongside her) and talks about how his father told him to develop his body rather than his brain—Adrian says that her mother told her the opposite thing; to use your brain rather than your body. She then asks Rocky why he fights, he replies, “’Cause I can’t sing or dance.”

Meanwhile, world heavyweight champion fighter Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) decides to schedule a New Year boxing event with a true underdog to go against. While looking for possible candidates, he picks Rocky only because he likes his stage name “Italian Stallion.” Rocky is asked to do it. At first, he doesn’t believe that he’s going to be the opponent of the heavyweight champion—he thinks he’s going to be a sparring partner, until he realizes that the winner of this fight gains the World Championship title. Rocky doesn’t care that much about winning, but about gaining self-respect for his future by giving the fight his all and winning Adrian’s heart. With help from boxing coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith), Rocky goes into training in preparation for the fight, while also developing his relationship with Adrian further.

The film is about using your chances to your advantage, standing by your loved ones, overcoming your regrets and lost opportunities, and pushing your potential to the best you can achieve. Now, if that makes “Rocky” sound very corny or cheesy, it’s not like that at all. Just about everything—every story element, character trait, etc.—is done right; handled delicately with a true affection for the characters, an emotionally involving feel, and many twists and turns as the film progresses. We care about the setups and payoffs involving the characters, thus making us care about the relationship and the big match. A lot of credit for that must go to Stallone for making us feel emotionally involved in everything that’s going on, and also for turning in a truly excellent performance as the hero Rocky. He’s tough and uses brawn instead of brain, but is truly a good guy with a heart of gold and hardly an ounce of cruelty. We can easily sympathize with Rocky.

The nitty-gritty look of Philadelphia helps make “Rocky” seem credible, as Rocky walks along the sidewalks at night, passing by some quirky characters who sing at the curb as well as some creeps that he, at one point, tries to keep a twelve-year-old girl from hanging around (her response—“screw you, creepo”). And the supporting characters like resentful Paulie and relentless Mickey complete the circle with blends of anger and spirit.

By the time we reach the final fight that’s been set up, it means everything. In the end, it doesn’t matter who wins and who loses—as clichéd as it is to write, it’s how it’s being played. Even if Rocky loses the fight, he gains more in life. That’s one of life’s simplest lessons that “Rocky” gets across—there’s more important things in life than winning. And it doesn’t merely rely on sports-film clichés to get that message across.

With a captivating hero and a sharp screenwriter (both the same person), nicely-portrayed supporting characters, and emotional involvement, “Rocky” is a triumph. It’s the little film that could…and ultimately did.

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