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84. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Rocky

February 27, 2018

Director: John G. Avildsen
Screenplay: Sylvester Stallone
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Talia Shire, Burt Young, Carl Weathers, Burgess Meredith
Runtime: 119 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1977

 

★★★★★

 

Sylvester Stallone’s decision to play Rocky is one that launched his persona to classic status, but the screenplay is actually a rather significant accomplishment on his part. Even making the most of its budgetary and production problems, this story, inspired by the rough narrative through-line of real-life confrontations, is weightier thanks to its decent dramatic backdrop and characterisation of what might usually be limited to broad stereotypes.

 

Rocky is a sports film that is far more interested in the emotions of the characters that partake in it; a narrative not solely driven by the physical achievements of its hero, but the way in which he slowly learns to better himself in the eyes of Adrian (Talia Shire). Adrian herself is a wonderfully performed character with a strong and sturdy arc to follow, even as the mere onlooker to her partner’s gradual achievements, he manages to get her out of her shell and bring her confidence back with satisfying definition and attainment. 

 

There’s some legitimate commentary being made also about the dangers of ego and theatrical presentation in the description and presentation of the sport. A lot is made of the idea of fighting as titles rather than people, and that elevation to titans somehow being a disconnect from the human struggle underneath. No better presentation of this comes than Carl Weather’s pretty great performance as apparent antagonist Apollo Creed, but there’s still an aura of respect towards others in a way not fully apparent in most other sporting pictures. 

 

John G. Avildsen is a perfect choice of director, keeping the camera and focus on the go through the streets of Philadelphia. Bill Conti’s score has memorable flashes of orchestral brilliance and 70s experimentalism, and it’s all incredibly well paced and edited to keep the excitement going into the final reel.

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