John G. Avildsen
|"He doesn't know it's supposed to be a show! He thinks it's a damn fight!"|
|Time: 119 mins.|
Won Academy Awards for Best Director, Film Editing and Best Picture. Nominations in 6 other categories including Best Actor for Stallone.
Believe it or not, I've never seen ROCKY, except for clips on various shows, until recently. I'm not a fan of boxing or Sylvester Stallone, so I saw no reason to sit through this flick, even though it won the Oscar for Best Picture. However, once we got the DVD I figured what the hell, it should be a good way to pass a Saturday evening. I have to say I was surprised at how touched I was by the performances of Stallone and Talia Shire. Together they make the perfect misfit couple and I totally believed their attraction to one another. Even though Rocky isn't the brightest bulb on the block, he is the only one who treats Adrian like a lady and a woman. Something she never experienced in this derelict vision of the City of Brotherly Love. The city looked like such a cesspool, I can't believe the local government didn't complain to the filmmakers. This film certainly can't have helped tourism. On the other hand, Rocky needs to be down on his luck for the audience to really get behind him and I doubt you could find anyone worse off than this lug. Having garnered so many awards and been a huge box office success, I thought I would have liked this movie more, but it just didn't grip me like I expected it to.
Maybe it's because the ending is somewhat ambiguous, like much of the movies filmed in this decade. Rocky is both a success and a failure, which is realistic, but not necessarily satisfying. Of course, if everything ended like a fairy tale, the whole film would have been an unbelievable joke. I wonder what the ending would have been had it been written a decade later in the midst of the blockbuster decade. I guess I should watch ROCKY 3 to find out. As it stands, Stallone writes an endearing saga about a man at the back edge of his prime given the chance of a lifetime to fulfill his biggest desire. It's quieter and more personal than any film he's ever made before or since, which is what makes it a classic pic. Stallone also shows more character here than most of his films put together. Those hang dog eyes have never expressed so much. Rocky doesn't need words because all of his emotions play perfectly across his face. Perhaps if Stallone tapped into that energy again, his career would get back on track with him making films worth watching. Though I enjoyed the movie, I'm stunned that it beat out ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN and TAXI DRIVER as best film of the year. I guess the Academy went with the underdog, the film with heart over brains and eccentricity.
The film opens with Rocky, a 30-year-old heavyweight, getting pummelled in the ring by an equally unimpressive boxer. It turns out that Rocky had some potential and he manages to pull out a win, even if the prize is only $40 minus fees. Having never received the right break or training Rocky is a has-been that never was. The best part of his day is when he visits Adrian (Shire) at the local pet store. Though always polite, she never gives him any encouragement to his flirtatious jokes, yet he keeps plugging away every day hoping to break through her facade. Her brother Paulie (Young) encourages Rocky hoping a little romance will endear him to Rocky and get him out of his miserable meat-packing job. Every time he sees Rocky he begs him to speak to Gazzo (Spinnell), the local loan shark, about being a collector. Rocky continually refuses, not wanting to ruin his precarious position by recommending a drunk. The money he earns from Gazzo is his lifeblood, even though he's not proud of it. Paulie, tired of watching Adrian mope around the house, forces her to go out with Rocky on Thanksgiving. Rocky makes the most out of the opportunity and soon they are an item. It seems fate he giving Rocky an even bigger break when he is chosen, mainly because of his nickname the Italian Stallion, to fight world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Weathers) on New Year's Day in celebration of the bicentennial.
It seems Creed's official opponent got injured and there are no other first class boxers for him to fight. He figures it's a good way to showcase the beauty of America by plucking an unknown from obscurity and give him the chance at the title...or as they truly believe, to be beaten to a pulp on national television. As dim as Rocky is, he's no dreamer and knows there's no way he's going to win against Creed. All he wants to do is stick it out and not look like a chump. With money from Gazzo, training from Mickey (Meredith) and love from Adrian, he embarks on a heavy duty daily regimen to get into fighting shape. He only has 5 weeks to become the best fighter he can be. This is the biggest moment of his life national exposure and 150 grand and he's terrified of blowing it. With Adrian by his side, he enters the ring and gives it all he's got. Everyone expects the match to be over in 3 rounds and Creed begins by playing with him. A few sharp punches to the body quickly wake him up to the fact that this is a serious fight and not just a show. Rocky is determined to take this thing all 15 rounds, refusing to stay down and even almost taking out the champ. Creed settles in giving and receiving an awful beating. He's not about to lose his title to some nobody. In the end, both men leave the ring with their dignity, if not their faces, in tact. Rocky finally proves to the world he's not a loser.
ROCKY is a well-made film with some great highs and lows, but it never really interested me much until the final third. Watching Rocky go about his daily business, muttering mono-syllabic jokes to Adrian and threatening deadbeats is not exactly my cup of tea. Stallone exhibits great charm and energy in the scenes with Shire, especially the sequence of their first date. However, the rest of the film just isn't very interesting. He does get into some arguments with Mickey and Paulie that breed a little life into the proceedings, but it's too little, too late. If Avildsen was trying to make us feel sorry for him and his sad life so we would be exhilarated at the end, he did a good job. According to this movie, working class life in Phillie is hell on Earth. The only thing that keeps the first half of the film afloat is Rocky's attitude. Even though he knows his life is crap, he tried to make the best of it, trying to enjoy life's limited happy moments like winning his fight and seeing Adrian. For that, you have to give Rocky credit and it makes his character a bit more approachable. Stallone is amazing in this film, giving the best performance of his career. He deserves much of the credit for making this film at all watchable. Rocky could've been a one-dimensional role, but he gives him a lot of depth and heart.
The rest of the immediate cast Shire, Young, Meredith and Weathers also gives their all to this production. They all give equally powerful performances which makes this a better film than it has the right to be. If any one of them was not up to the task, it would have brought down this house of cards. It's amazing to watch Adrian's transformation from a shy mouse to an attractive lion. Just like Rocky, all she needed was someone to believe in her. If you're not a boxing fan, the final showdown may be a bit brutal for you to watch. There are instances where I just had to turn away. I'll never understand how two men beating the crap out of each other could be turned into a multi-million dollar sport. Maybe it's just because I'm a woman. This also may be why I didn't like the film more. Watching this sort of brutality is not my cup of tea, no matter how much money or supposed talent is involved. If you like films about the underdog triumphing over the drudgery of life, you probably won't find a better Cindarella story than ROCKY. However, if you're not a fan of boxing, this may not be the film for you. Granted most of it is at the end, but they don't pull any punches when it comes to that sequence. Don't let your preconceptions about Stallone give you second thoughts. He got nominated for awards for a reason. His performance is the film's best surprise.