Sylvester Stallone, alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, now shares a chuckle over their past intense competition to dominate the box office. In the arena of Netflix documentary memoirs, Arnold’s self-titled trilogy surpasses Stallone’s “Sly,” which offers a deeply personal, albeit narrowly focused, meditation on his ascent with “Rocky.”
In essence, the documentary heavily features Stallone’s own narrative about his life and professional path. It includes several remarkable disclosures, such as serendipitous casting choices for “Rocky” and an incident with Dolph Lundgren landing him in the hospital during the production of “Rocky IV.” However, it also delves into self-promotional and somewhat stale reflections.
Stallone shares his experiences of growing up with an abusive father and how he began to write due to dissatisfaction with the typecast tough-guy roles coming his way. He also recounts rejecting a significant payday during the making of “Rocky” because, despite the studio’s approval of the screenplay, they strongly objected to him playing the lead role.
Through a blend of vintage footage and recent interviews, it’s evident that “Rocky” transformed Stallone’s life instantaneously. Meanwhile, his brother Frank found himself in the shadow of this success, often recognized merely as “Rocky’s brother.”
What often slips from memory is that Stallone encountered setbacks with films such as “F.I.S.T.” and “Paradise Alley” after his initial triumph. It wasn’t until he cemented himself in the franchise domain, alternating between the “Rocky” and “Rambo” series, that he saw a steady accumulation of sequels and financial success.
The documentary includes conversations with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Talia Shire from “Rocky,” the enthusiastic fan and director Quentin Tarantino, and Henry Winkler, Stallone’s colleague in “The Lords of Flatbush.” Despite this, director Thomas Zimny, known for “Springsteen on Broadway,” seems satisfied to center the narrative around “The World According to Sly.”
The documentary aims to portray a more relatable Stallone, showcasing a seasoned wisdom gained over years in the spotlight, reflecting on his relentless pursuit of success in the film industry. It touches upon personal insights, such as the value he places on family, highlighted by a brief mention of his son Sage’s untimely passing in 2012, and unresolved personal issues, especially concerning his father, which influenced his films. Additionally, it covers his ventures into comedy, including the much-maligned “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot,” a project Schwarzenegger jests he coaxed Stallone into accepting.
The unwavering focus on Stallone’s point of view limits the documentary “Sly” from adequately situating his body of work within the cultural and historical landscape of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Notably, it misses the opportunity to delve into how iconic characters like Rambo and Rocky symbolized the Cold War era. In essence, Zimny’s approach has rendered the documentary akin to a self-endorsed narrative.
“Sly,” much like other recent nostalgic documentaries such as “Arnold,” “Val,” and “STILL: A Michael J. Fox Movie,” serves as a valuable cultural artifact, offering an influential figure’s narrative to a generation that grew up on their contributions. However, when placed alongside the standouts in this rich category, it falls short of packing the heavyweight punch, presenting as more of a cursory glance than a deep dive.
“Sly” is set to debut on Netflix on November 3.