ROCKY: A Sports Film That's Far More Interested in Its Characters
While ROCKY is clearly a sports film, it’s a fairly disinterested one when it comes to the actual sport of it – boxing. The triumph of its script is instead as a quiet character study, while the sports of it is just a vehicle to advance the film's underdog narrative.
ROCKY is just shy of two hours long with credits, and every time I watch it (which I did on a flight this week), I do so having forgotten Rocky Balboa doesn’t even start training for his big fight with Apollo Creed until 71 minutes into the film. Rather, it spends most of its screen time more interested in four characters with no sense of self-worth, a quiet, sweet romance, and the titular character’s quest to overcome his instincts to remain the loser everyone – including himself – thinks he is.
Consider ROCKY's script by Sylvester Stallone, which, like Rocky, lacks initial energy, more observational than propulsive. Things are just happening to Rocky when we meet him, because he's incapable of taking a shot at anything except the girl of his dreams ("Yo, Adrian, wanna go ice-skating?").
But as ROCKY progresses, as Rocky decides not to ignore the call the action that's the offer to fight Creed and then follows that up with additional decisions (which increasingly feel natural to him), its pace quickens until it almost begins to feel like an action film.
One example of this pace's increasing speed is that Mickey, Rocky's broken-down old trainer, only spends maybe three minutes onscreen actually training him. A training montage proves more exciting – moving quickly like the narrative now (Bill Conti's wonderful score helping out).
Then we get to the climactic match between Rocky and Creed.
The fight itself is 15 rounds, only two of which are presented in real time. Another 11 are summed up in blurred montage. The final two race past you, until the bell rings, and Creed – holding a bloodied Rocky up, like Rocky is holding his opponent's broken body up by this point – says there won’t be a rematch. Rocky replies in-between gasps for air that he wouldn’t want one...because, thematically, it was never about winning. Just beautiful.
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