According to the new documentary “Sly,” Sylvester Stallone’s biography follows a similar narrative to the Rocky films he wrote, starred in, and eventually directed. It tells the inspiring tale of a determined young man from the neighborhood who overcomes adversity and achieves success against all odds, even when others doubted him.
He breaks through these overused phrases of success by truly experiencing them, a genuineness apparent in his excellent working-class accent and tough guy-philosopher way of speaking. Born in Hell’s Kitchen during a time when it was still fittingly named, he grew up as a confident athlete despite, or possibly because of, his father’s constant mistreatment. He fought his way into the entertainment industry with sheer determination. Despite casting agents not seeing him as leading man material, he created the iconic role of Rocky Balboa, a working-class boxer who triumphed over adversity with his fancy footwork, powerful punches, and most of all, his heart. This led to him winning Oscars and achieving box-office success, which later declined due to some unsuccessful projects in the 90s and 2000s. However, he made a comeback as a macho elder statesman when he starred in The Expendables.
The story is pleasing, but it lacks depth and seems to show excessive admiration for director Thom Zimny. This Netflix-approved piece highlights the resilience of the executive producer of their popular show Ultimate Beastmaster. However, it glosses over any flaws that may have added complexity and interest to Stallone’s character. In the only moment where he reveals a less-than-flattering aspect of himself, Stallone admits regret for prioritizing work over time with family (a common struggle). The overly positive portrayal does a disservice to an intriguing anomaly in the entertainment industry, reducing a unique movie star to a one-dimensional role model.
Wesley Morris and Stallone are praised for their understanding of Stallone’s unique acting style and presence. Morris explains that Stallone’s talent lies in giving the audience what they want and creating roles that highlight his strengths: his rugged charm and sensitive masculinity. Stallone is also aware of his limitations and acknowledges that his expertise lies in playing characters that fit his established type, rather than being a versatile actor. He jokingly admits that he is not cut out for Shakespeare and adds a touch of humor as he recalls his unsuccessful attempt at a screwball comedy in 1991.
The film is hindered by Stallone’s shrewdness in managing his image, as he selectively avoids uncomfortable or unpleasant aspects of his persona. It would be unreasonable for viewers to expect a project produced in collaboration with the subject to address the numerous sexual assault allegations that have tarnished his reputation as an all-American hard worker. However, Zimny could have delved into deeper emotional depths by exploring Stallone’s cautious political neutrality and his reluctance to alienate any part of his fan base through vocal partisanship. While he briefly discusses the strain of bodybuilding during his prime, he conveniently overlooks the physical toll of steroid use in order to maintain his appearance for his looks-based profession. If he were to acknowledge this, he would also have to address his 2007 arrest for possession of illegal human growth hormones. Additionally, there is no mention of his pre-fame softcore pornography film, The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, which is often overlooked as a part of his early career.
The absence of Creed may stand out the most, but it serves as the logical conclusion for the comeback story that Zimny expertly follows under the guidance of Stallone. The Rocky quasi-reboot was a huge success, earning critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Stallone’s supporting role. However, Stallone’s ego becomes apparent as he sees Creed as a passing of the torch to Michael B Jordan as the new top star. This choice reveals the self-centeredness often found in softball biographical documentaries that glorify their subjects rather than providing a balanced portrayal. In a report from a Netflix-sponsored exhibit of Stallone’s paintings at last September’s Toronto International Film Festival, Chloe Lizotte describes seeing the artist’s face prominently displayed throughout the venue, blurring the lines between art and advertisement. Stallone embodies this spirit of shameless self-promotion while attempting to appear modest, presenting a sanitized and convincing commercial for himself rather than his true self.
Sly will be released on Netflix on November 3rd.