He is one of those self-made artists who created a legend around their name, eventually becoming a pop culture sensation through an illustrious career in a multitude of diverse fields, always relating to cinema, such as directing, acting, producing, and screenwriting. Sylvester Stallone, most commonly referred to as "Sly", proved to be the quintessential paradigm of an action-flick hero while his ferocious physicality and chiseled physique rendered him a symbol of machismo and hyper-masculinity, especially during the early stages of his work. 1976 was Stallone's banner year as it was then that the first installment in the notorious Rocky saga was released with the American actor making his debut as a screenplay writer and impressing both critics and audiences with his nuanced portrait of the boorish palooka who, nevertheless, reserves a soft touch for those who care. Stallone's characterization of the protagonist was, first and foremost, a veiled response to the film industry that insisted on casting him in typecast roles such as the thuggish criminal. He wanted to prove that this particular perception of his persona was misleading, thus Rocky Balboa became a vehicle that would shatter the confinements of this stereotype. Stallone wrote the first draft in a little less than 3 days with several rewritings of course, and he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. It should be stressed that the film itself won the Academy Award for Best Picture in a year that was marked by the release of several iconic productions like M. Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Alan J. Pacula's All the President's Men, and S. Lumet's masterpiece on the destructive effects of television, Network.
Sly lets the 77-year-old actor talk with his trademark nonchalance in front of the camera about his personal life and various stages in his career. The interview took place in Stallone's Beverly Hills mansion and the director, Thom Zimny, framed the narrative with comments by erudite film buffs such as Quentin Tarantino and the two-times-Pulitzer-winning New York Times cultural critic Wesley Morris. Moreover, Stallone's brother, Frank attaches a distinctively personal dash to this documentary that provides a terse overview of Sly's life as a Hollywood superstar. The complex relationship with his father permeates the narrative/runtime as Francesco -"Frankie"- Stallone, an Italian-American barber who used to work in New York City, was an advocate of a strict upbringing for all his children, frequently implementing corporal and verbal punishment as a means to achieve compliance and acknowledgment of his authority as the head of the family. Sylvester was born and raised in the rather tough neighborhood of Hell's Kitchen, New York and he manifested a volatile temper throughout his childhood. He played truant from school, got involved in fights with other boys and all the signs heralded a tough life ahead. However, his intrinsic love for movies led to him studying as a drama major at the University of Miami, the first step in his long journey to stardom.
Stallone is an eloquent narrator, despite the characteristic growl in his voice that came as a result of a birth defect as he explains in the beginning, and he embellishes his life chronicle with sprinkles of humor while at all times displaying a self-effacing disposition that makes him all the more likable. It would be wise to keep a notebook beside you while watching Sly as there are too many memorable quotes uttered by Stallone with the best one being the last: "And I don't like sad stories". In the first half of the documentary, Zimny dwells on Stallone's breakthrough work, Rocky, and after that the tempo accelerates and we learn more about his later roles and attempts at disparate genres such as police procedural (Copland), even farce (Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot). Of course, there is an amount of time dedicated in the multi-talented actor's second most beloved franchise, the Rambo films. Arnold Schwarzeneger's brief appearance(s) help the audience understand his rivalry with Stallone as the two of them were competing on how far you would go to sculpture your body with the resulting images of the two actors becoming more akin to comic books super heroes.
While Sly is an entertaining watch, there are some flaws that blemish the general picture. Zimny avoids controversial events of Stallone's life, one example being his involvement in soft-core porn films, and seems too eager to prove that the subject of his documentary is above criticism; he now has the status of a living myth within the contemporary pop culture context. Plus, there is little or no mention of Stallone's relationship with his 5 children, only a passing remark near the end that ultimately functions as a footnote. The focus remains on the moviemaking process and the minutiae of the actor's major works. On the other hand, it felt good to hear a celebrated artist speak with such candor about how instant fame always finds the individuals off guard and have negative consequences for his personal life. Even though Sly could be better, mostly in the sense of furnishing a more well-rounded depiction of its subject, it remains a worthy production and the first Netflix title in a long time that attracts the moviegoers' genuine attention.