DIRECTED BY JOHN G. AVILDSEN
STARRING: SYLVESTER STALLONE, TALIA SHIRE, BURT YOUNG, BURGESS MEREDITH, CARL WEATHERS, THAYER DAVID and JOE SPINNELL
It’s hard not to like Rocky Balboa. Anthony Gazzo (Joe Spinnell) would agree with me in spite of the fact that his star henchman hands a fair share of pardon votes without consent or consultation. And in that, he fails to be a good debt-collector, while his debt-collecting activities makes Coach Mickey (Burgess Meredith) scorn his talent in boxing. He punches dents on his opponent to make up for his lack of grace in a sort of counter-balance of abilities. He’s modeled on Rocky Marciano in a Chuck Wepner plot, both of which are duly notified – he worships one and quotes the other regarding his duel with the legendary Muhammed Ali, who in turn is personified in Heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). It’s astonishing how much consistency in detail that Sylvester Stallone manages to empower the film with, all balanced on the very broad shoulders of his majestic performance.
Stallone the actor and Stallone the writer never try to emulate each other. The writer knows exactly what the actor is capable of doing, while the actor has an impeccable idea on what the writer wishes to channelize through him. Of course, this would be the case with any other writer-actor, right from the inimitable Chaplin through the likes of Woody Allen, down to George Clooney (in ‘Good Night and Good Luck’) and even Seth Rogen (in ‘Superbad’). But Stallone, we see self-satisfaction - he doesn't try too hard. It’s a casual, yet adequate performance in a script where there are no surprises. The emphasis is neither on conceptual intricacies nor in portrayal of the down-on-luck Boxer who corks his anger inside a Samaritan bottle that cracks but just once. Instead, all focus has been directed in making ‘Rocky’ the most stylish film that Hollywood has ever seen, where every sequence would render itself memorable, some even to fever pitch. And it accomplishes that rather royally, without as much as a whiff of anything deliberately provocative. We have a Gangster, but not a gun. We have a charming woman in Adrian (Talia Shire) and there’s Rocky’s relationship with her, without shedding a single garment that her introversion wouldn’t allow. And we have sport – deep, passionate sport – without cheap thrills or a manipulated ending.
In short, ‘Rocky’ does what his cinematic peers from the past, present and future have done, except he does it effortlessly, being full aware of both capabilities and requirements. His strength isn’t showcased, his perseverance flickers, but his sincerity never changes course. He’s human, and he’s got game.
Sports films usually tend to explore the sportsman’s psyche through the game he plays and the way he plays it. Stallone was one of the very first to distinctively focus on his activities off the field to explain his behavior when on the field; to justify his rationale. ‘Rocky Balboa’, the last installment, finessed this to overwhelming proportions. In ‘Rocky’, we catch a glimpse. Stallone captures his suburban grit as well as the lack of it in a package of such boyish charm that his Rocky endears beyond mention. The effect is made even more pronounced by a simplistic background score that keeps its faith (and brilliantly so!) to the single track in ‘Gonna Fly Now’ composed by Bill Conti. And to top it all, there’s a certain rawness in in the film’s friendly locales, which complements Stallone’s down-to-earth rendition, thus making us feel like we’re a part of the town. We root more for the kindhearted bum from the neighbourhood than a representative of anything heroic about cinema and its protagonists. The effect is uncanny.
But ‘Rocky’ is anything but realistic. It’s an exaggerated drama saturated with heroic moments in simple premise. It’s not cinematic, but it’s well-directed. It’s a pure, honest-to-the-core entertainer that banks its success entirely on how endearing its characters turn out to be. And in that, it’s a ten on ten.