Netflix Instant Queue Diaries: The Real Rocky
Jeff Feuerzeig’s ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, “The Real Rocky” exposes Stallone and the life of Wepner without boring you. It’s not hard to make the story behind “Rocky” interesting, but Feuerzeig’s film is the type of documentary that induces a smile right away. The great footage compiled along with charismatic interviews with Wepner and his family makes it a film worth repeated viewings.
That has everything to do with Wepner’s personality and Feuerzeig’s style of shooting. The up-close shots of Wepner, the comments of his lawyer and the newspaper clipping animations are stylistic and gritty, almost noir. They add a polish and level of flair not scene in many ESPN documentaries.
The relationship between Wepner and Ali drives the film, but the steady flow of confrontations between Wepner and Stallone are the driving force.
Wepner’s fight with Muhammad Ali directly inspired “Rocky.” Stallone saw the bout and was the event that lighted Stallone’s creative fire after several failed scripts. Like Rocky, Wepner was a leg breaker for the mob in-between fights. Rocky fought professional wrestler Thunder Lips for charity in “Rocky II,” Wepner fought Andre the Giant for cold hard cash.
But aside from the events that inspired the characters, that’s where the similarities end. Wepner was a marine, a liquor salesman, and a partier- he was even a criminal at times. His fighting style was downright dirty. But Stallone always found a way to incorporate Wepner into the franchise. Simultaneously watching Wepner’s life unfold and the film franchise develop, you realize this is no coincidence. Wepner makes sure you believe that his life was being used. He also makes sure you know he enjoyed the ride. He took advantage of his added 15 minutes of fame, but he wants more. With no regrets, he tells his story and there is barely a bitter bone in the film. Wepner just feels entitled to some payment for his part in the film.
The road to that moment is an engaging, witty ride that never slows down. It never gets boring. With both the fight with Ali and the imminent confrontation with Stallone, there’s always a point of interest in the film. There’s always something going on. It never drags. It’s never preachy and never steps on your toes.
Well, unless you’re Ali.
Patrick Hickey Jr.
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