PG for boxing violence and some language.
Dec. 20, 2006
Action/Adventure, Drama, Sequel, and Sports
Sylvester Stallone, Burt Young, Milo Ventimiglia, Antonio Tarver, Geraldine Hughes
MGM Distribution Company
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Rocky Balboa: The Heart of a Champion
By Deacon Keith A. Fournier
- I must admit, I was more than excited!
From the moment I received the correspondence inviting me to join with “faith and values” leaders for a private pre-release screening of Rocky Balboa, followed byan opportunity to meet with Sylvester “Sly” Stallone after the film, I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. You see, like millions the world over, I am a long time fan of these movies. I considered the opportunity of meeting the real "Rocky" to be a special and personal gift. I was to celebrate my fifty second birthday the day before the viewing. I knew I needed something to put hope back into my own life. These last two years have been among the most difficult, yet the most productive, of my life.
The Rocky movies (and I admit to having held a personal preference for Rocky III, at least prior to seeing this marvelous movie!) have always come through for me, in the most important moments, when I was close to defeat or despair. We all face these times; it is simply a part of our human experience. These films have inspired me throughout the "rough and tumble" of my own life and helped me to "begin again" on so many, many occasions! They express enduring themes such as the triumph of the good over evil, the power of faithful love, true loyalty and genuine friendship ....and they emphasize that our progress is produced through perseverance and guided by faith in something bigger than ourselves. For those of us who love them, these films inspire us to reach for the best and remind us that no matter how difficult our daily experience may become, we can overcome.
When I heard that the Hollywood “underdog”, the gifted man who defied so many odds in producing these films, Sylvester Stallone, had come home to his Christian Faith and produced a final film meant to complete the series, I was like a kid waiting for Christmas.
I was not disappointed!
The movie opens in simplicity, with little fanfare, recalling the earthy feel of the first film and inviting the viewer into the lived experience of so many who have grown up in cities like Philadelphia. We meet an older Rocky, who has moved into the autumn of his life. He has also lost the love of his life, his wife Adrian. His son Robert has grown up and, for a myriad of reasons understood by any who have raised children to adulthood, can now find little time for his father whom he thinks “throws a big shadow” because of his celebrity in the City. Rocky is still loved by that City of brotherly love. He is their favorite son, who is now contributing to the City’s tax base, as the owner of a restaurant named “Adrians” where people go to eat, meet, and greet the former champ, hear his stories, and reminisce. This older Rocky is a good man with a pure heart. He has weathered many storms and the lines on his face reveal their effects.
The viewer is immediately introduced into the world of the champ, by accompanying him, with his old friend and brother in law Paulie, through an annual ritual of visiting the cemetery of his dear wife, and then all of the places where their love was fostered, matured and developed, becoming the guiding force for his life. We are also immediately confronted, at the level of real emotion, with the prevailing theme of this great film, that only love lasts and, that when it is given away it grows, transforming not only the one who gives, but everyone who is touched in the process. The movie is not overtly religious. However, that is part of its great contribution. It communicates spiritual truth in a wonderfully human manner and will do so beyond the audience that would go to a religious film.
The context within which this theme of growing in love, which is cultivated within a life filled with challenge, and experiencing trials as opportunities where wisdom can be learned is a great boxing movie. However, in a very real sense, Rocky Balboa is no more a boxing film than Chariots of Fire was a movie about running. Boxing is used as a metaphor for life in this film, with all of its struggles and opportunities. For me, though I also loved Chariots of Fire, Rocky Balboa is much more like my own life experience. I also believe that it will communicate to a much broader audience, not only because of its endearing “blue collar” context, but because of its gritty and real characters.
This film is about relationships. Like the enduring love between a husband and wife which continues beyond the grave because it has a redeeming power. The painful love between a father and a son, as the father watches his own son struggle with finding his own identity and purpose in life, becoming the brunt of the sons’ rejection and immature blame because the son has not yet looked deeply into the mirror. Yet, the father truly loves, enduring the rejection and persevering knowing that love never fails. The love between friends that brings “old Paulie” out of dead end trails. The love exhibited between teacher/trainer and student. The mature love shown by a man who has learned the lessons taught by aging and takes under his protective embrace a young single mom and her wandering son. I could go on…but I hope I have simply whetted your appetite to go and see this truly great film.
And yes, for those who are boxing fans, of which I am included, it is also about boxing. It is about the emptiness of attaining a title, but losing the respect of the crowds. That is the sad fate of the current champion Mason Dixon. All of the rankings and all of the money could not purchase the respect he craved because he had not yet discovered the heart of a champion within. In the end, it is Rocky Balboa who will show him the path, in an ending worthy of this classic boxing movie. The challenge is set up through a computer generated fight between the old champ and the new champ. It leads to the real fight after first passing through training scenes that will inspire many. They have even inspired this overweight, fifty-two-year-old reviewer to get back into the gym. Because of his age and injuries, Rocky goes “old style” and the training scenes are extraordinary as he builds the capacity to inflict “blunt, force trauma” under the former trainer of Apollo Creed who returns in a delightful role.
The development of the character of Mason Dixon reveals another aspect of the meaning of the metaphor of boxing that runs throughout this movie. Dixon is an unhappy man who has not discovered the inner purpose behind all the training. His relationships are all empty because they are not built on love but on use, viewing persons as property. The development of the relationships between Dixon and his “handlers,” Dixon and the “crowd,” Dixon and his “friends”…. are the opposite of Rocky’s. They reveal the difference between true and false relationships. That is, all except for one, the one he will ultimately develop with his adversary whom he is training to defeat in the ring.
Rocky becomes the one who ultimately teaches Mason Dixon, through a baptism by fire, how to find the “heart of a champion”. Then, after all the lessons are learned and taught, Rockyfades out of the picture in a marvelous ending which will surprise many. The producer, Sly Stallone, uses cinematography to communicate a powerful point; it is not really about Rocky at all. He is simply a servant, a teacher, a model, and a friend. The film concludes where it began, at the graveside, where enduring love is again expressed, as that kind of love that overcomes even death.
This film is filled with marvelous “quotable” lines which communicate its powerful message in the language of ordinary folks. That is because Rocky Balboa is every man, and every woman, who faces tough opposition in life, draws wisdom from it, and grows in character and virtue through it. I know that many of the salient scenes will come to mind for me for years to come and probably become the subject of more reflection and writing. Outside of the context of this great movie, they may sound a bit, shall we say “schmaltzy,” but I don’t care. Let me conclude with an example from ringside, in the midst of the fight, when Rocky’s own words are given back to him to encourage him to keep on fighting:
“What is it you said to the kid? The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very rough, mean place... and no matter how tough you think you are, it'll always bring you to your knees and keep you there, permanently... if you let it. You or nobody ain't never gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard you hit... it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward... how much you can take, and keep moving forward. If you know what you're worth, go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit.”
And take the hits he does.
The closing fight scenes will not disappoint. However, they are quite different than any fight scenes in any of the other Rocky movies. And, they are much fewer in number. There are no boxing scenes in much of the film, except for a few clips from Mason Dixon’s wins, until very close to the end of the film; again underscoring that this film is not about boxing but about living. Yet, in the scenes of the final fight between Rocky and Dixon there is great boxing, great inspiration, and great instruction. Through the use of flashbacks, we are treated to lessons about living as we are visually shown the message of this whole movie. Rocky Balboa gets up over and over, reaching down deep to find the heart of a champion. We learn that we can all be champions at life. And we learn this important lesson from a man who I believe actually lives what he has given to the world in this great movie.
Rocky Balboa is the Crown of the Rocky Series. It is an enduring tribute to the power of love, loyalty, and perseverance. It will be released on December 20 and would be a wonderful Christmas gift.
Viewing this film was not the only birthday gift I received.
I met Sly Stallone in a private reception for “Faith and Values” leaders and the press held immediately after the viewing. In that reception Stallone shared, with deep sincerity, of his purpose in making the Rocky movies, his disappointment over the last movie, which he said was reflective of the sad place he was in his personal own life, and of his return to his childhood Christian faith. It is that faith and the inspiration derived from it, that prompted the writing and production of this film. Rocky Balboa is intended to recapture the purpose of the entire Rocky project and communicate a redemptive message. It most certainly does.
The charisma of the man filled the room when he entered. He is larger than life. He is also in impeccable physical shape. He looks like a “V” with legs on it! In fact, this beaming picture of health, especially as they say “at his age,” caused some within the room, this reviewer included among them, to rethink the all too convenient excuse of blaming our age and decide to get back to training! As he spoke, taking question after question with the ease of a man comfortable in his own skin, his down to earth humble manner revealed the mettle of this man. Sylvester Stallone is Rocky Balboa, only more refined.
I had the privilege of expressing my appreciation to him. I shared some of what I have written in this review that the movie was about enduring relationships. He was thrilled. I told him “You have the heart of a champion”. He truly does.
May this wonderful movie, Rocky Balboa, help us find this kind of heart and live life to the full.
For more information: www.RockyResources.com
Deacon Keith Fournier is a married Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia serving at Saint Benedict Church and teaching at the Parish School. He holds degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville (B.A.), The John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University (M.T.S.), the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (J.D.) and is currently a Ph.D. student in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America. He practiced law for twenty seven. He and his wife Laurine have been married for thirty one years and have five grown children and two grandchildren. He is the author of eight books.
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