Rocky takes on the beasts within

Rocky Balboa, 102 minutes. Rated: M. Director: Sylvester Stallone. Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, website

Rocky takes on the beasts withinAnyone who’s seen Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot could be forgiven for forgetting Sylvester Stallone was once a highly rated Oscar nominee. The much-lauded film in question, 1976’s Rocky, is a bona fide classic.

Stallone’s pathos and humour-filled screenplay about, and on-screen portrayal of, a downtrodden Philadelphian who beats the odds, social barriers and his own personal demons to defeat (symbolically, at least) the world heavyweight boxing champion not only earned him two coveted nominations (best actor and best original screenplay)—it made the writer/star and his character into household names.

Of course, four lackluster sequels and countless parodies and rip-offs have subsequently marred the film’s reputation. The sixth and final installment in the franchise, Rocky Balboa (arriving 17 years after the previous installment), is much more than a simple return to form. It’s equal parts nostalgia trip, bittersweet reflection on ageing and loss, and a fitting final chapter for one of modern cinema’s most iconic characters.

Rocky Balboa finds the ageing athlete working as a gregarious restaurateur, who regales patrons with stories from his heydays in the ring. It also finds him nursing sizeable grief for the death of his wife , and struggling to connect with his adult son (Ventimiglia), who is tired of living in his celebrity father’s shadow.

Some of the film’s platitudinous speeches about self-respect and facing life’s 'punches' head-on are heavy-handed, yet entirely in keeping with the Rocky spirit. The franchise has always been at its best when the fist-pounding action inside the ring has worked as both metaphor and catharsis for the turmoil and drama taking place away from it.

Rocky takes on the beasts withinIndeed, when Rocky is offered the opportunity to take part in an exhibition match (read: publicity stunt) against undefeated but unpopular world champ, Mason Dixon (Tarver), it’s a chance not so much to reclaim former glories as to purge the demons within.
Even in the worst films of the franchise, Rocky has always been a well-rounded character: outgoing; marked by insecurities; bolstered by devout faith; struggling to balance family responsibilities with his drive to be at the top. It’s worth noting that the character’s endurance is due as much to Stallone’s performance as to his writing.

When it comes to acting, Stallone (contrary to popular opinion) has always been a cut above muscled contemporaries such as Arnie and Van Damme. In Rocky Balboa, he turns in one of his finest performances to date, imbuing the punch-drunk pugilist with a soulful melancholy that manages to engage even during the film’s most overwrought moments.



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