‘Sly’ documentary review: A whistle-stop tour of Sylvester Stallone’s greatest success and the price he paid to achieve it

Sylvester Stallone in ‘Sly’

Sylvester Stallone in ‘Sly’

Hot on the heels of Arnold, the three-part documentary on Arnold Schwarzenegger, comes this film on Sylvester Stallone proving the famous rivalry of the ‘80s between the two action stars might not be done yet. Or it could be just a matter of timing.


Director: Thom Zimny

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quentin Tarantino, Frank Stallone Jr, Talia Shire, Henry Winkler, John Herzfeld, Wesley Morris, Jennifer Flavin, Scarlet Rose Stallone, Sistine Rose Stallone, Sophia Rose Stallone, Sage Stallone, Frank Stallone Sr

Story line: The story of the Hollywood action star told through an exploration of his three biggest franchises: Rocky, Rambo and The Expendables

Run time: 96 minutes

There is nothing new you could learn through this documentary that you would not have known through a cursory reading of Wikipedia. Sly is still a fun watch, as it is nice to listen to Stallone’s nuggets of wisdom from the school of hard knocks.

The film starts with Stallone moving house and a couple of tapes pop up in the packing. He plays one of the tapes which is a recording of a New York Times interview which he did after the phenomenal success of Rocky. Stallone goes back to Hell’s Kitchen where he was born and speaks of his dysfunctional childhood where his parents Frank and Jackie were too busy to look after him and his elder brother, Frank.

The two boys spent time in movie theatres and young Sly was entranced. Insisting his life is like an Arthur Miller play, Stallone says watching Steve Reeves as Hercules changed his life. He had a role model and a goal. It is interesting that it was Hercules (with Reg Park) who gave Schwarzenegger his goal as well; both men had troubled relationships with their authoritarian fathers.

After deciding to become an actor, Sly landed in New York City (the family had moved out looking for better prospects) on the day of Woodstock in 1969. After bit parts, off, off Broadway, Stallone moved to Hollywood and that is where the great adventure began. Lords of Flatbush (1974) saw Stallone as one of the greasers, Stanley and in filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s words, “The first sense of Stallone’s voice before Rocky.”

Also Read | Movie rivalry with Stallone got out of control, we tried to derail each other, says Schwarzenegger

Stallone’s killer idea of “writing his frustrations” created Rocky (1976), a love story where as Adrian’s (Talia Shire) boyfriend, Rocky Balboa, happens to be a boxer. There is the well-documented story of how Stallone was unwilling to sell his script unless he was cast in the lead, the story behind the sequels and the struggle to present something new each time. There is also Stallone talking of the perils and disappointments of success.

Rambo, the traumatised Viet vet made his first appearance in 1982 with First Blood. Originally written as stone-cold psychopath, Stallone talks of how he changed the script to make Rambo a more sympathetic character despite his “feral ferocity” and also how the ending was changed. Then it is time to talk of The Expendables, the thinking behind it and the toll it took on Stallone’s body.

There is no mention of Stallone’s personal life, except for a mention of the passing of his son Sage. Of the talking heads which includes, Stallone’s brother, Frank, film critic Wesley Morris, his Lords of Flatbush co-star Henry Winkler, Talia Shire, and director John Herzfeld, Tarantino and Schwarzenegger sparkle with insight, wit, warmth and humour.

Like Arnold, Sly offers an pithy, entertaining look at the career highlights of an iconic ‘80s action star. It could have been more… but it’s not.

Sly is currently streaming on Netflix

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