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December 26, 2006 > Rocky Balboa

Rocky Balboa

by Jeremy Inman

I'll admit: I didn't expect Rocky Balboa to be good. However, like the titular protagonist, the film stuns the opposition and excels beyond all expectations.

In other words, I was wrong.

Sylvester Stallone has done an amazing thing for American cinema. Unfortunately, he's often regarded as something of a joke; a poor man's Arnold Schwarzenegger, but what most don't realize is that he wrote the entire Rocky saga. Not a lot of people give him credit for creating one of cinema's most beloved original characters of all time. The first Rocky won the Oscar for best picture and became a timeless classic. While Rocky Balboa (number six) isn't going to win any Oscars, it's definitely every bit as charming and uplifting as any film since the first.

In the sixth film, Rocky is long retired, his beloved Adrian has passed away, and his son works a job that monopolizes all of his time. Rocky spends most of his time hanging around with his brother in law Paulie and managing his restaurant "Adrian's," telling his old boxing stories to the patrons who come to eat and greet one of Philadelphia's old heroes. When a computer simulated boxing match is televised on ESPN which pits Rocky Balboa against the current champ Mason Dixon - and Rocky wins - it sparks his old desire to fight, and he reapplies for his boxing license.

What starts out as a few local fights soon escalates into Rocky being coaxed into an exhibition match against the real life Dixon.

Why would a boxer in his fifties decide to climb into the ring with the undefeated, undisputed heavy weight champion of the world? You'll have to watch the movie, but it basically boils down to Rocky's own philosophy: it's not about how hard you can hit, because life hits harder than anyone else; it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. To Rocky, that's the only way to earn your self respect. You have to test yourself.

But this is more than another fight movie. Actually, it's probably less about the fight itself than any other Rocky movie. It's about a journey through life, about challenges never met, regrets, and every other facet of growing old. It's also about family and having something to live and strive for.

Old Sly Stallone still has a lot to say, and he does it through the prism of the eloquently simplistic Rocky, whose pride and tenacity and all around good-nature make him one of the easiest underdogs of all time to root for. Rocky's no scholar, but he's clever in his own way, and he knows a lot about life and about respecting other people as well as yourself; and he's a genuinely nice guy. It's for those reasons that we can all look up to him, not because he knocked out Mr. T.

The film is a triumph. Congrats to Mr. Stallone for so gracefully concluding this journey. Rocky Balboa is eloquently written, skillfully directed, and masterfully acted. It's exceptionally uplifting without being over-sentimental, especially for a Christmas movie. It's just understated enough to be believable and relatable, which alone captures the very charm of Rocky himself.

This is the perfect film to go see with the family this Christmas season, and a tremendous final round for a franchise that has had more ups than downs - a worthy addition (and conclusion) to the legend that is Rocky Balboa.

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