By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"But it ain't about how hard you hit... it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward." Rocky Balboa
Just as Citizen Kane was as much about the rise and fall of wunderkind Orson Welles as it was William Randolph Hearst or Charles Foster Kane, Rocky Balboa, the sixth film in Sylvester Stallone's thirty-year Rocky franchise, is as much about Stallone's ability to go one more round with a movie industry decidedly not in the corner of aging celebrity actor/directors. So with a certain incredulity, this aging film critic watched Rocky Balboa with initial skepticism and final admiration for a small, underplayed drama about an older man who still has life and more importantly spirit.
As Marie (Geraldine Hughes) tells her new friend and potential lover, Rocky, "Fighters fight." Such simple wisdom helps us understand why this middle-aged ex- heavyweight champion would go into the ring with the young current champ. Of course, Rocky could use the money as well. But Stallone's script and direction emphasize the rightness of Rocky's trying himself again, having some confidence in his physical ability to stay in the ring with the young man. But actor /director Stallone gives a sweetness and almost Zen-like wisdom to the boxer's decision, which has little ego and even less foolishness than the clich?s would allow anyone dramatizing such a well-worn setup.
There is more sanity in Rocky's willingness to fight one last time (as his son points out it will be) than in the reasoning of the current champ, Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver), who wants to endear himself to a boxing world that has not warmed up to him. Helping all this less-than-compelling reasoning convince the boxers to fight is the computer match up that has Rocky beating the champ. Although the outcome is predictable, Stallone has succeeded in giving dignity to his boxer and aging in general, with an attendant life lesson to act always with a charity that helps outside the ring and maybe even inside.
MBA students learn about "social capital," the old networking reworked into charity that pays dividends. The film Rocky Balboa in the end turns on social capital or rather Rocky's ability to get support from his family and friends and the city of Philadelphia as well. No wonder the city decided to return to its spot the famed statue of Rocky, which like it or not, is a tribute to the American myth of self improvement and a filmmaker who made this critic a fan long after his children had idolized the boxer for embodying hope and determination.
"Fighters fight," and critics criticize; in this case the critic belatedly whistles the Rocky theme and grows a little more gracefully old because of a second-rate actor and director with a first-rate vision.
"I can entertain the proposition that life is a metaphor for boxing?for one of those bouts that go on and on, round following round, jabs, missed punches, clinches, nothing determined, again the bell and again and you and your opponent so evenly matched it's impossible not to see that your opponent is you.... Life is like boxing in many unsettling respects. But boxing is only like boxing." Joyce Carol Oates
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com