Monday, April 2, 2007

Rocky Balboa

In 1938 Henry Armstrong held three different championship boxing titles. He held them in the featherweight, welterweight and lightweight divisions. After he retired he became an ordained minister and focused his ministry on unprivileged youth. He also appeared in three movies and wrote his autobiography of "God Gloves, and Glory." If not knowing better one might assume that Sylvester Stallone has thought about traveling the same path as the late great Henry Armstrong. The difference is that the process is somewhat in reverse. The fact that he is using his movies to provide a spiritual message is obvious though.

Rocky Balboa is a wonderful film, and a wonderful ending to a character that is loosely based off of Stallone's own life. The fact that the last of the Rocky series is written and directed by Stallone is not lost on this one reviewer. What will be the surprise of many was not so much a surprise to me, Stallone brings us back to the character of Rocky; the one we loved in the original, and the one that has lived through various circumstances that Stallone himself has gone through. In essence, we see boxing as a metaphor for not only the life of Sylvester Stallone; we see boxing as a metaphor of all of us approaching the later stages of life. Jesus stated he never taught anything without first telling stories, Sylvester Stallone has told a story that is as rooted in faith, and moral integrity as anything coming out of Hollywood in years.

Truth is, it is virtually impossible to comment on Rocky Balboa without making reference to the Rocky's of the past. One has to go to the original Rocky, the one that garnished various Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor. In that movie Stallone in a recent interview gives indication as to what he was foreshadowing. "The character of Rocky was built on the idea that he was chosen to do something. That's why the first image in Rocky is the picture of Christ." Stallone has made it clear, that it is through God that we find our gifts, and that it is God whom we should serve when using those gifts.

From that first image in Rocky, to the continuing story of seeing him offering advice to a young Marie, telling her to not hang around certain kids, or that she will end up being a whore and not amounting to much, we see Rocky develop a tender love and compassion for those he comes into contact with. Rocky develops a love and compassion that in some ways leads to his demise at times with devastating consequences. Despite the difficulties life throws his way we see Rocky over and over come back to his senses and rekindle the love and dedication to carry and improve his situation. The love, dedication, and continual effort of the Rocky Balboa character carries on, and it is where we end up in the last film of the series, Rocky Balboa. While Rocky is questioning his own heart and his own convictions, he has reminders of the influence he has had on others.

Rocky now owns a little restaurant called Adrian's in Philadelphia. He loves telling stories of his old boxing days, always taking time to spend with an autograph seeker or anyone who has an interest in what he has done. He plays a grateful sports figure who realizes the importance of the life he has led. He knows he owes it to the fans as his blessings in life came from some place deeper than himself. We see the giving and giving continue from having around him his brother in law Pauley, who he still loves and looks out for to old fighting foe, Spider Rico, a fighter we came to know from the first Rocky. The relationships and memories do not end there though, Rocky through a series of events comes into contact with Little Maria the little girl he offered advice to in the first Rocky film. It is from this relationship that we begin to understand the heart of Rocky Balboa. Rocky's heart is one full of courage, integrity, faith and ultimately victory.

After a series of events Rocky Balboa finds himself wanting to get back into the ring. There is a beast in his stomach, or as he refers to, "in the basement," that he has yet to let out over the years. In the process of wanting to throw a few punches around, he ends up getting an invitation to fight in an exhibition match against Mason "The Line" Dixon, played quite well by real life fighter Antonio Tarver. Dixon is a unique individual because he is an undefeated champion who has lost the respect of fans. He has lost respect because the heavyweight field is not strong and many assume he has no appreciation of what he has obtained in the sport. After a computer fight between Dixon and Balboa, many begin to question even more how good Dixon is.

Through the process we see the relationship between father and son develop between Rocky and his son, Rocky Jr. played by Milo Ventimiglia. In this relationship we see of the difficulties both have gone through in life, but we also see the love and respect they have for each other. In this relationship we see a consistency with Balboa, his character really is as good as he plays out to the fans around him. While the fans are important, he truly sees value in family and they take first priority.

I could go on with the story line, but this is the place to comment on my own appreciation of the movies willingness to address a character in a strong spiritual way. Many will see this movie and not notice the spiritual attributes of Balboa, which is a shame. This is a character that from the very beginning of the series has seen value in his faith, church, family, prayer, and in scripture. Even here, we see Rocky refusing to go to battle without first hearing a passage of scripture. We see Rocky in prayer, we see him like most any other Joe on the street, except he takes his faith seriously and he chooses to live it out among those he comes into contact with, even his enemies. This love not only carries out in the way he treats other people, it is evident because we see the way he treats the animals he comes into contact with.

Is Rocky Balboa as good as Rocky? The answer to me here is obviously no. That being said, it may be the best Rocky since the original. Stallone does a great job of acting, and those who are critical of his acting methods will likely be seeing the movie because so many of their friends who have seen the movie, will come back and question their integrity. Truth is, this is the best role Stallone has played in a very long time. He has surrounded himself with a wonderful cast, provided wonderful direction, and written a beautiful script. This movie is not about boxing, it is a reminder to all of us to live life to the fullest, to get up when we are knocked down, and to do so with an attitude that we don’t care what others think. In many ways, just as boxing is a metaphor for life, this movie is a metaphor for the life many have led while growing up watching the Rocky series. It is a character we can love and appreciate; it is one that has drawn fans from all generations.

Rocky was one of the first movies I took my then girlfriend, now wife to see in 1976. It was so good we stayed and watched it twice. At the time I was a boxer and could relate to so much of what the movie was presenting. Now some 30 years later, I attended to watch the movie with my wife, and son who is 17 and a wrestler. My son, not even thought of 30 years ago fell in love with the Rocky character and watches the movies every chance he gets. He has for at least 6 or 7 years now. I can honestly say, I am honored that my son grew up admiring this character, I am even gladder that Sylvester Stallone made this final film in the series. It is a lesson on life, it is lessons on never giving up on your dreams, not for what others think of you, but for what you think and desire for yourself.

The Bible tells the Christian to love their neighbor as they love themselves. I have often had difficulty with that concept, what it means to love your self, how that relates to the way we love others. In many ways, the life struggle of Rocky Balboa illustrates that message, it illustrates it in such a way that I now have a better understanding of what that concept means. Rocky Balboa, while not a Christ figure, is certainly a role model, one that spoke to me some 30 years ago, and one that speaks to me now in my maturing adulthood. Thanks Sly, thanks for the character, and I can honestly say, Rocky will live on for as long as there is film, and people with a heart to go after their own dreams.

On a scale of 1 - 10, I am really surprised but for the 8 counts Rocky has taken over the years, only to get back up, an enthusiastic, enjoyable 8

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Rocky Balboa Trailer

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