SLY | USA | 2023 | 95m | English
Starring: Sylvester Stallone
Directed By: Thom Zimny
For nearly 50 years Sylvester Stallone has entertained millions with iconic characters and blockbuster franchises, from Rocky to Rambo to The Expendables. This retrospective documentary offers an intimate look at the Oscar-nominated actor-writer-director-producer, paralleling his inspirational underdog-story with the indelible characters he has brought to life.
TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
RATING 4 out of 5
Sly is an intimate look at the man behind the fame, and while it may hold its punches at times, this documentary provides an insightful and rewarding experience that captures the spirit and genius of Sylvester Stallone that has kept his fame as popular today as it was when the world first met him as Rocky Balboa all those years ago.
For decades, audiences have associated Sylvester Stallone with his two most famous roles: Rocky and Rambo. Two major franchises and unforgettable characters, one an underdog boxer that inspired millions and the other a deadly action hero. But for many, the man behind these famous characters and beneath the fame has not been as well known. And that is the goal of Sly: to let the audience know the man behind the star and showcase not only how Stallone became a star, but what has allowed his popularity to remain over the last four and a half decades.
The documentary chronicles Stallone’s life in chronological order as he packs up his house and gets ready to move. The backdrop of the move gives thematic framing to the documentary that naturally allows Stallone to reflect on his life as audiences are given a look behind the cameras to understand this legendary movie star on a personal level. With a runtime of ninety five minutes, the film does not spend a lot of time on Stallone’s early life, covering the most impactful moments of his upbringing that shaped him into the man he is today. From his parent’s divorce, his troubled relationship with his father, and his bond with his brother, the film covers it all and continues to highlight the importance of family to Stallone throughout his life. It’s a personal look, touching upon both his successes and shortcomings as a family man, humanizing this superstar. From there, the majority of the film is spent focused on Stallone’s career beginning with the filming of the first Rocky film and onwards to the early 2000s, touching on both his achievements on screen, his flops, and some of his proudest moments throughout his career.
While we all know Stallone for his work in front of the camera as Rocky and Rambo, the documentary does a great job touching on his work behind the camera. This begins with Stallone’s championing of Rocky as a producer and writer, looking to make a role for himself after being consistently typecast in Hollywood as the supporting muscle role. It’s a central part of the documentary and in Stallone’s life, as it was the moment that made Stallone the star we know him as today. There are some great insights into the making of Rocky, the fear that it would bomb upon opening, and the effects it had not just on viewers but on the course of Stallone’s life. And this did not stop with Rocky, as Stallone continued to have a heavy involvement in the development of the films he starred in, including fighting with the studio to rewrite the ending of Rambo; directing his own films, and reflecting his own life circumstances on the characters he portrayed on screen as he did in both Rocky V and Rocky Balboa.
To tell the story of Stallone’s life, the film utilizes interviews with Stallone himself, his family, his coworkers and his admirers. We get interviews with Henry Winkler, who worked with Stallone before he became a household name and helped him land on his feet upon first arriving in Hollywood, and Quentin Tarantino, a director that Stallone has twice declined roles from. While the majority of the story is told by Stallone, these interviews give insight into the respect Stallone has created for himself among his peers and family, helping to let the audience know what type of man he is. With the primary subject matter of this documentary being movies, we get lots of clips from Stallone’s movies, behind the scenes footage, and archival video to visually portray Stallone’s life on screen, that with great editing keeps, keeps the documentary moving along at a good pace so the audience’s attention never wanders for a second.
There is no denying that the documentary is setup to be a crowd pleaser, giving audiences a very positive look at Stallone’s life. It misses out on some controversy that he has found himself in during his life, and while I would never expect such a documentary to dive deep into those matters, the fact it never mentions them calls into question whether we are getting the full story on or not. But, at the end of the day, Sly is a fascinating documentary that has all the ingredients for an interesting and entertaining documentary, so it is easy to overlook what is omitted from it.
Compelling from start to finish, there are few movie stars today like Sylvester Stallone, and Sly never for a second lets you forget his talent or his effect on popular culture in the many decades of him working in Hollywood. Balancing Sylvester Stallone’s personal life, his mega-stardom, and his talent for incredible storytelling both in front of and behind the camera, Sly captures the man, the myth, the legend of Sylvester Stallone in an exceptional documentary that is both informative and enthralling from start to finish.