“It’s your right to listen to your gut, it ain’t nobody’s right to say no after you earned the right to be where you want to be and do what you want to do! You know, the older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life. The only thing I’m asking you guys to leave on the table… is what’s right,” says Rocky Balboa.
A cinematic icon was born 40 years ago with the release of the Oscar-winning Rocky, which featured a star-making turn by Sylvester Stallone as a small-time boxer named Rocky Balboa who gets a shot at the world heavyweight champion and tries to make the most of the opportunity. It was followed by four sequels, with 1990’s lackluster Rocky V believed to be the final installment at the time. The film left a bitter taste in the mouths of Rocky fans everywhere, and even Stallone felt it could’ve been better. It took Stallone years to get another Rocky film off the ground, but he was eventually able to finally able to get a green light for a new entry. I saw Stallone’s Rocky Balboa almost 10 years ago during its original theatrical release, and it was a wonderful closing chapter to the Rocky series (until 2015’s Creed came along and gave us an excellent new installment). This review of Rocky Balboa is my entry in the Athletes In Film Blogathon hosted by Once Upon A Screen & Wide Screen World.
2006’s Rocky Balboa follows retired boxer Rocky Balboa as he attempts to return to the ring after struggling to cope with the death of his wife and seeing a computer simulation on TV that shows a younger version of him beating the current world champ. When the unpopular champ sees the simulation and finds out that Rocky got his boxing license back, a charity exhibition match is set up between the two. Stallone brought together a terrific ensemble that included himself (as Rocky Balboa), Burt Young (as Paulie Pennino), Milo Ventimiglia (as Robert Balboa Jr.), Antonio Tarver (as Mason “The Line” Dixon), Geraldine Hughes (as Marie), James Francis Kelly III (as Steps), Tony Burton (as Tony “Duke” Evers), Henry G. Sanders (as Martin), and Pedro Lovell (as Spider Rico). Stallone gives an Oscar-worthy performance in his long-awaited return as Balboa (his scene with the boxing commission would’ve served as an excellent Oscar clip). He brings pain and sadness (along with the weight of real-life struggles) to the character. Young is terrific once more as the aging Paulie, as is Ventimiglia as Rocky’s son (who’s struggling with the shadow of his famous father) and Hughes as the grown-up “Little” Marie.
Stallone’s strong direction draws incredible performances from the cast and stages some exciting boxing scenes (he and Tarver threw real punches and real boxing sound effects were used, adding to the realism of their bout). The screenplay by Stallone explores Rocky’s life 15 years after the previous installment, having him cope with the loss of his wife, which created a “beast in the basement” that Rocky needs to get out. It also deals with how the passage of time has affected those around Rocky, including Paulie and Robert. Clark Mathis’ cinematography reflects the somber tone of the film, and Sean Albertson’s editing gives the film a good pace (he also gives the boxing scenes an extra punch). Bill Conti delivers a heartfelt and dramatic score that utilizes his previously established themes from the franchise. Stallone’s Rocky Balboa is a welcome addition to the franchise that removes the sour taste left by Rocky V and serves as a fitting farewell to the Rocky Balboa character (at least, that is, until he returned for 2015’s acclaimed sequel/spinoff Creed).