THE STORY – The nearly fifty-year prolific career of Sylvester Stallone, who has entertained millions, is seen in retrospect in an intimate look of the actor, writer, and director-producer, paralleling with his inspirational life story.
THE CAST – Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Quentin Tarantino, Talia Shire, Frank Stallone & Henry Winkler
THE TEAM – Thom Zimny (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 95 Minutes
When you think of the 80s, plenty of things come to mind. Lots of neon being worn, the rise of MTV, and, of course, boom boxes. It’s also impossible not to think of Sylvester Stallone’s dominance in Hollywood and the film industry as a whole. The way the “Rocky” and “Rambo” films permeated through popular culture was unlike anything else. As we approach almost fifty years of Stallone’s presence in film, it’s never been more fitting to look back at how his legendary presence came to be. Although Thom Zimney attempts to reflect on Stallone’s legendary career and life with “Sly,” the film never lives up to the level warranted by someone of his caliber.
“Sly” gives an intimate look into the life of Sylvester Stallone as he is preparing to move back to the East Coast. During this period of change, he reflects on his journey from an aspiring creative to solidifying himself as one of the most prolific Hollywood stars of the past forty-plus years. There’s such passion from Stallone as he is recounting his humble beginnings. Stallone is captured throughout the documentary, retelling moments from his life and even dialogue from his films in the most animated ways. It’s very charming, and you can see the natural storytelling he has always known for. In addition to Stallone recapturing moments from his past, the film is filled with interviews with family, friends, and artists influenced by his work. It was quite surprising to see someone like Quentin Tarantino not only appear in this film but rave about “The Lords of Flatbush” and talk about how he was introduced to “Rocky.” Stallone’s dominance over Hollywood during this period couldn’t be overstated as he created two of the most beloved film characters and became a massive box office draw. While it is appreciated that “Sly” goes throughout Stallone’s filmography and breaks down a lot of his early work, this approach to the film begins to become tedious. It feels like a cycle of Stallone discussing bomb after bomb, and then there comes a Rocky sequel. Of course, there are exceptions, as every second talking about “Cop Land” was a highlight, especially leading up to the origin of how Stallone goaded DeNiro into delivering one of his most quotable lines. “Sly” just comes off as facile and shies away from the more interesting aspects of his life, which are Stallone’s relationships.
Easily, one of the stronger aspects of “Sly” is Stallone divulging how his troubled relationship with his father influenced the art he created. At times, the virulent relationship goes to places where it becomes genuinely disheartening. There’s an unwarranted animosity from Stallone’s father that is roused by the jealousy of any moment his son exceeds in life. This applies not only to Stallone’s film career but also to moments in his life, such as his brief stint as a polo player. Fatherhood is a very predominant theme that plays into the film. Viewers can hear the regret in Stallone’s voice as he inadvertently makes some of the same mistakes as his parents before him. His dedication to his craft appears to have somewhat hampered his relationship with his own family, or at least, how Stallone perceives he acted as a father. Stallone touches on this at the end of “Sly,” and it’s such a beautiful moment of reflection. These concepts of parenting and taking consideration of the time we have with one another sadly do feel half-baked. The dynamic discussed between Stallone and his father becomes completely absent for a large portion of the film in favor of Stallone continuing to go on about films his audiences probably never heard of. Then, by the film’s end, it is wrapped up so neatly that it feels unearned. It’s great that Stallone and his father can reconcile in some manner, but it feels as if it was added into the film just to end on a perfect note. It paints Stallone akin to that of the characters he creates who can’t be serviced by anything other than a hero’s ending. Sometimes, how things play out in life isn’t entirely cinematic enough to be captured, and that’s fine. It’s just frustrating to show us a side of Stallone we are rarely allowed to see and not fully deliver on that potential.
Too many celebrities feel they lived a life warranted enough to earn a full-fledged documentary. Sylvester Stallone is undoubtedly someone who’s earned it. His passion for film and his dedication to his craft is mesmerizing. Listening to Stallone earnestly talk about how hungry he was to succeed is exactly the authentic, motivating force that makes a film like “Rocky” so special. While “Sly” can sometimes be entertaining because of Stallone’s (and even Tarantino’s) presence alone, the film around him can’t escape the giant shadow he casts.