Closing in on forty-years since its humble release in cinemas, this film is still one of the all-time classics that delivers a tale of inspiration that still holds relevance in today’s world.
Back in 1976 a young unknown Italian actor had written a script that caught the eyes of producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff. In exchange for agreeing to sell this script the young actor insisted on one condition, he be cast in the lead role.
With little money in the bank, no car, and struggling in the business, the risk of turning down the amount offered for the script would be monumental. Yet, this actor refused to sell unless he was cast as the main character. It would turn out to be the springboard for the illustrious career of Sylvester Stallone. Despite the budget being cut in half when United Artists learned of Stallone’s being cast the film, “Rocky” went on to win Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Film Editing in 1977.
Small-time boxer Rocky Balboa (Stallone) is un-ranked and sees a dim future for his career. To compensate a living, Balboa roams the Philadelphia streets collecting debts for a loan shark. When current heavy-weight champion Apollo Creed’s (Weathers) Philadelphia fight seems in jeopardy after it is learned his opponent cannot compete, Creed decides to give a local up-and-coming boxer a shot at the title. That boxer being Rocky Balboa, who suddenly finds himself with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Even the story of how this film was made would write itself as a great tale about the underdog struggling through a tough and insurmountable journey to finally reach success. The fact this film went through many financial obstacles and still turned into a huge success only completes the happy ending of what could be a tale all on its own. As for the finished product, the script is nothing short of an excellent story about a normal guy who could reach his dreams, and regardless of the boxing theme, anyone can draw inspiration from the plot.
The mental state of the character is well expressed and you can see nothing but a grim existence for Balboa. He is getting older and seeming to fade in his low-level career and clearly has his inner demons about the past. His life is not easy, something that makes him strong physically and mentally which at times compensates for his lower intelligence. The hero of this film has weakness, he is not impervious to all and this humanized persona makes the character extremely relatable, as well as making you genuinely care about what happens in the end.
The relationship between he and the extremely shy Adrian (Shire) is able to convey the soft side of Balboa. Some of the scenes where he expresses his fears despite the opportunity given to him creates even more drive for the viewer wanting him to succeed. The story-line also gives enough time to Apollo Creed and his camp of men to express their lack of concern for Balboa as a challenge. They view him as a weak opponent, and with the story taking you deep into Balboa’s character to convey the opposite, the film sets up an intriguing third-act confrontation.
There are so many great things about this film. The backdrops of a tough, cold looking Philadelphia were excellently chosen and add a dreariness to the tone of Balboa’s character and life. The score of the film was also perfectly orchestrated, the long drawn out tones add an element to the film that is often forgotten in cinema today. The entire cast brought excellent performances. Stallone, like the character he was playing, used his opportunity to the fullest and delivered, bringing us the life of the struggling boxer in what I could still say is his best performance to this day.
Talia Shire as Adrian was the true co-star in this film. Her portrayal of the reclusive girl in a tough city was captivating and as the movie progresses you can truly see her grow into a strong, supportive and determined woman. The chemistry between Stallone and Shire was excellent, and believable, and as their relationship progresses the script did a masterful job of showing how each made the other a stronger person. Burgess Meredith as the stern trainer Mickey was also very good in this film, giving the overall calm tone of the movie a quick shot of intensity with each of his scenes.
There were so many great dramatic moments between many of the characters in the film and it was clear to see that all of the cast put their full effort into the project. There were many great moments of silent imagery in the film that allowed the viewer to easily take in the surroundings. Which, captured with great cinematography allow the locations to set a tone and mood on their own in the backdrop of the character dialogue.
The directing was excellent throughout and it is easy to see why Avildsen earned his Best Director trophy at the Academy Awards. The cinematography throughout the final fight was excellent and put you right into the action. The score playing in the background build suspense and Stallone and Weathers gave their all into the 15 round slug-fest. The result being to this day some excellent cinematic boxing.
Overall “Rocky” in my opinion is a timeless classic. The story is real, motivational, and inspiring. The characters are unique and the performances by the cast were all top-tier. Anyone who hasn’t gotten to see Rocky Balboa make his trademark run to the top of the steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are missing a great moment in Hollywood history and should enjoy the film for the first time in its entirety. This first film in the series will always be the strongest and despite being a movie about boxing, the scope of the story-line is broad, and the messages in this film can be enjoyed and by all.
– Starring –
Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Carl Weathers, Burt Young, Burgess Meredith, Tony Burton
– Directed By –
John G. Avildsen
Time: 119 min
MPAA Rating: PG (For thematic sports violence, strong language)