Synopsis: Explores Sylvester Stallone’s life and nearly 50-year career, from a rough childhood in Hell’s Kitchen to struggling actor to action filmmaker and star of Hollywood franchises
Stars: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Stallone, Henry Winkler, Talia Shire, John Herzfeld, Wesley Morris, Quentin Tarantino
Director: Thom Zimny
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: Ultimately, I find that the point of watching any documentary is to learn something about the subject, and too often, with a look behind the curtain of Hollywood life, it never feels like you’re finding out something authentic. That’s not the case in the new Netflix documentary Sly, which premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival. (This review uses part of the original thoughts I shared then.)
Director Thom Zimny uses a brief 95-minute run time to cover the expected titles of Sylvester Stallone’s career (yes, even Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!) but expends more of its energy in allowing the audience to listen to the man himself tell us about the life he has led until this point. As with any origin story, we must return to the beginning and Stallone’s upbringing. Raised in Hell’s Kitchen under a competitively tyrannical father, Stallone emerged from his early days as a struggling actor knowing that if he wanted interesting roles, he had to write them for himself.
This is how audiences came first to know Stallone as Rocky and eventually John Rambo, a role conceived quite differently in its original incarnation but changed to one with more resonant motivation once Stallone came on board and tinkered with the script. It’s surprising to hear how much Stallone (Creed) gets in there and reworks screenplays to fit not just his style but to improve the movie experience for the viewer – he’s laboring to make his films more than just a cookie-cutter retread of the last box-office blockbuster. Sometimes, it pays dividends, and others, it leads to ill-advised efforts like the disastrous 1983 Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive or 1984’s Rhinestone.
Though I think this could have been longer (hey, Arnold Schwarzenegger, interviewed here waxing poetic about Stallone’s talent, just got a 3-part doc on Netflix!) and explored more of Stallone’s family life, the concise nature of Sly aligns with the man himself. As he showed onstage when he introduced the film in Toronto, he’s a man of few words, but his charisma in commanding a room is undeniable. No documentary can accurately capture that, but Sly does above-average work by reminding us what made him a star to begin with.