Principal Cast : Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Stallone, Talia Shire, Henry Winkler, John Herzfeld, Wesley Morris, Jennifer Slavin.
Synopsis: The nearly fifty year prolific career of Sylvester Stallone, who has entertained millions, is seen in retrospective in an intimate look of the actor, writer, director-producer, paralleling with his inspirational life story.
Earlier this year, Netflix released a multi-part series documentary on the life, career and loves of celebrated screen icon Arnold Schwarzeneggar, a detailed and surprisingly honest account of Arnie’s careers in bodybuilding, Hollywood actor, Californian Governor, and cheating husband. Candid documentaries – the subject himself interviewed at length about some of the more salacious aspects of his life – rarely tackle such material with the gusto of Arnie. Well, on the opposite end of the spectrum is a 90-minute doco on the life and career of Arnie’s long-time rival turned friend, fellow screen titan Sylvester Stallone, and while Arnie’s journey to American legend is filled with luck, talent and business acumen, Netflix’ Sly is far less forthcoming with details and, instead, is a lamentably shallow trifle.
The film’s bookends involve Stallone packing up his Beverley Park mansion to move East, to Florida. As the movers collect up all his memorabilia, Stallone waxes lyrical about his life and career, a career that took him from nobody writer slash supporting actor, to eventual Oscar nominated actor – and Oscar-winning writer – with the 1976 Best Picture-winning Rocky, to his turn as PTSD-afflicted Vietnam Veteran John Rambo, to starring in a plethora of bombastic Hollywood action films across the next three decades, to his recent return to pop culture relevance in the Expendables franchise. There’s a rather protracted focus on the rocky (ha) relationship Sly and his brother Frank had with their father (also named Frank), the struggles of getting noticed in the Hollywood machine, and eventual superstardom and the weight of expectation, but it’s all layered into a present-day Stallone giving often nonsensical platitudes as his “life” is packed up ready to move across country. The film’s production is first rate in terms of access, and the use of archival material, other interviewees (including Rocky co-star Talia Shire) and reflecting on the historical legacy of both Rocky and Rambo as franchises representing the struggles Stallone has had throughout his life, but there’s a sense – slight as it is – that the film isn’t quite as in-depth or self-reflective as it’s made out to be. This isn’t a “warts and all” documentary as much as a middle-aged man entering old age and giving us a potted history with a few pot-shots at his father.
Had Sly been far longer and more interested in dissecting Stallone himself rather than the things around Stallone, and allowed itself the luxury of length or a more pointed thematic structure, it could have been great. Unfortunately it lacks the precision of other, more examinatory productions, relying on Stallone’s allure as a screen star than the subtle human intellect we know him to be. Sly feels superficial more than it hopes not to be, a sad misstep for Netflix’ usually spot-on documentary output.