Rocky Has The Greatest Training Montage Of All Time

Through it all, Stallone looks tired. He looks spent. He looks like he’s going through hell. Find the pain in his face as he tries a little bit harder. See the concentration in his eyes as he punches the meat and performs one-armed push-ups. This is Rocky Balboa the man, not the icon, and everything hurts. Unlike the superheroics of the sequels, we can actually fathom the pain Rocky is feeling as prepares. The audience doesn’t know what it’s like to lug trees in the Russian wilderness, like in “Rocky IV,” but we sure as hell know what it’s like to feel our lungs burn as we climb a flight of stairs. Stallone’s willingness to allow Rocky to look vulnerable in this training montage is key — we can understand and feel the accomplishment like we rarely do with other movies.

Conrad and Halsey’s editing, which holds on shots for far longer than you see in other training montages, allows the performance to sing. It allows Avildsen’s framing to really hit home. The pain, the isolation, the loneliness, the triumph — it works because the sequence is cut to maximize the sheer difficulty of it all. Only that soundtrack works in a different step, but it’s all by design. Conti’s score draws the internal majesty of a hard-fought battle to the surface, while the filmmaking emphasizes the external pains and anguishes.

The training montage in “Rocky” is the greatest of all time because it’s the rare example of the form to put character first, to ask us to empathize with the person growing stronger rather than to be in awe of them. Every choice made is built around this core idea: Rocky has to work hard, and we’re going to feel it. And that makes Rocky’s triumph our triumph, as the invisible spectators who cheer him on when he scales those empty steps. He doesn’t know we’re rooting for him, but we are.

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