Gonna Fly Now
Rocky is directed by John G. Avildsen, written by Sylvester Stallone, and stars Stallone as the titular Rocky Balboa. The film also stars Talia Shire, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, and Carl Weathers. The film won the Oscars for Best Director and Best Editing, along with the Oscar for Best Picture.
The 1976 sleeper hit Rocky is one of the most iconic sports films ever made, and is considerably the best film of Sylvester Stallone's acting, directing, and writing career. Shot over the course of just 28 days, with Stallone writing the first draft of the script in only three days, it's still pretty amazing to believe that a movie made in such little time and with seemingly no expectations could somehow end up with the most coveted Oscar of them all. Rocky remains as influential and feel-good today as it did back in 1976, with a sprawling franchise that is still punching and kicking with the two (and counting) recent Creed films. At this rate, the Rocky/Creed franchise is going to keep going until either Sylvester Stallone seizes total control of the rights and shuts down the franchise for good, or the box office results flame out so hard, that no one will want to hear the name 'Rocky' in a movie ever again. Whatever the case, Stallone has cemented his film making legacy, and will always be remembered as the underdog boxer who got a shot at the world heavyweight title.
This is one of those films, where, unless by some miracle you have not seen it or, unless by some even greater miracle you have never heard of Rocky, I don't feel the urge to really give a plot summary. Plot: that's something Rocky isn't all that concerned about, although I'd be lying if I didn't say that Rocky certainly has something resembling a plot. If we want to talk about the plot of Rocky, then we should talk about how much of a non-sports plot it really is. Outside of the big title bout at the very end, Rocky doesn't offer too many scenes where we see Rocky or someone else actually box, and why should it? If much of the film was composed of Rocky training montages and monologues of, "this fight has some greater meaning", it would be almost impossible for the film to distinguish itself from other, cliched sports films. One of the main reasons so many sports films try to be like Rocky and fail is because they fail to realize that less is more: the less trite, sentimental sports moments, the better.
- Everything about how Rocky succeeds as a sports film by having a non-sports plot ties back to an astounding screenwriting effort. I would say 'effort by Stallone' but even though Stallone got solo credit for the screenplay, word is is that the first draft that Stallone completed in three days went through multiple rewrites. Perhaps the better way to say it is an astounding screenwriting platform by Stallone, which then got however many patch-ups it needed before John G. Avildsen brought it to life. Anyway, Rocky spends most of its time focusing on Rocky Balboa, the human, and not Rocky Balboa, the boxer. The screenplay doesn't want to show us Rocky in the ring, unless it believes it has earned the right to show Rocky with the gloves on. In reality, there are only two scenes where Rocky is actually boxing another opponent. The first is in the opening scene, and that's because the movie is simply introducing us to Rocky. The second is the fight with Apollo Creed, which the movie has been building to for the better part of two hours.
Between these two fights, we watch Rocky work his day-to-day job as a debt collector for a loan shark, helping kids stay out of trouble, and build a relationship with the shy, pet store worker Adrian. These scenes are treated with a careful and caring human touch, which is why not a single one of them is boring. All these scenes serve the purpose of what the screenplay is trying to do most of all: have us care about the man who is fighting in the ring. It seems so simple, and yet, Rocky is so effective with accomplishing this task. The final fight is so much more intriguing because of what the movie has worked towards, what it made us want to feel for the Italian Stallion.
- It's not only the screenplay: Sylvester Stallone brings such a charming, down-to-Earth persona to the title role, that you easily fall in love with Rocky as a character. He's a hulking fighter with a heart of gold, and Stallone is the perfect fit. Stallone has never made a career out of other-worldly acting performances, but don't listen to anyone who tries to tell you that Stallone can't act. This film, and Stallone's performance as an elderly Rocky in Creed -both of which earned him a nomination for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively- are living proof that Stallone is capable of great acting. The role of Rocky is where Stallone has made the best of both worlds: his hulking frame and his charming, humble demeanor. The vast majority of Stallone's filmography has been about him showing off his hulking frame: Rambo, The Expendables, Cliffhanger, Cop Land, etc. so it's understandable why many would view him as another Arnold Schwarzenegger or Hulk Hogan. I'll say it again, though: Stallone can act, and when given the right role, he is damn good at it.
- I shouldn't get carried away with lauding the screenplay, because it does come up short in regards to a few characters, which negatively impacts the movie as a whole. Adrian's brother Paulie and Rocky's trainer, Mickey Goldmill, are developed as if they are both going to have something major to contribute to the film: Paulie is portrayed as a drinker who verbally abuses Adrian and gives in to emotional outbursts. Mickey manages the gym that Rocky trains in, but gives Rocky's long-time locker to someone else because he saw great potential in Rocky, and was angry that Rocky never capitalized on it. After hearing that Rocky was getting a fight with Apollo Creed, he approaches Rocky, asking to be his manager. Both Paulie and Mickey are given promising direction. Unfortunately, the movie loses track of what exactly it wants to do with both of them, as they end up just being on the sidelines supporting Rocky, without any sense of closure. What was the point of Paulie being a drunkard and having a bad temper? Was there supposed to be some kind of redemption for Mickey? It shouldn't matter how much more we get to see of Paulie and Mickey in the Rocky sequels: there should be some kind of beginning, middle, end arc for the two of them in this film, and I'm hard-pressed to say that either of them have one.
So the other way I would describe the low point is that Rocky struggles with its supporting characters, but hey, the film is called Rocky, because that's the man we should care the most about when all is said and done. Unlike many other sports films, Rocky spends most of its time developing and focusing on who exactly is the man that is boxing inside the ring, quarterbacking the football team, or pitching in the baseball game. We don't need endless victory montages nor any sappy monologues to understand that Rocky is a good fighter. The fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed at the end is so engaging is because the movie spent the better part of two hours showing us Rocky the man. The sports action will take care of itself.
It sounds strange, I know, but the reason Rocky works so well as a sports film is because of how un-sports like of a film it is. There's not a whole lot of actual boxing in the film, but there doesn't need to be. With careful direction from John G. Avildsen, a stand-out lead performance from Sylvester Stallone, and a screenplay that hits many, if not all, the right punches, Rocky hasn't lost an ounce of its charm, its heart, or its inspiration nearly forty five years later. It's the type of underdog, rags-to-riches story that every underdog, rags-to-riches story should strive to be like. It's also the type of sports film that every sports film should strive to be like: the focus is on the person/the people and not the gameplay. It worked back in 1976; it can work today. Thrilling sports action comes and goes, but charming, memorable characters last forever.
Recommend? Yes. While not entirely flawless, it's a sports film definitely worth your time.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: