Type: Documentary Feature 95 Minutes
Worth Watching: Not really, unless Sylvester Stallone was influential in your life.
Score: 2 brain numbing upper cuts (2/5)
After watching the exceptional “Arnold” – I had high expectations for “Sly” – the Netflix documentary about Sylvester Stallone. Sadly, this particular doc is the lesser event in every way. It’s shorter, less insightful, makes a smaller impact and overall is the two things a documentary about Sylvester Stallone should not be: tepid and boring.
It’s hard not to compare the two documentaries because Schwarzenegger and Stallone have been compared throughout their whole career. In the 80’s war of the box office, each one tried to out-do the other as the stories got dumber, the guns got bigger, and they both were household names. However, when it comes to the presentation of life stories, Arnold emerges a hero and Sly falls off a cliff hitting every painful rock on the way down.
The visual choices made for Sly seemed primed straight from the Rocky. Gritty, dimly lit action shots of Stallone moving from one place to another are so stark it’s like watching a home video taken by the movers as they unpack the truck to ensure nothing is broken. The narrative choices also reflect a hero who, even though he has an Academy Award for screenwriting, has a hard time putting sentences together and just sort of huffs through history. While Arnold speaks introspectively of his abusive father as a “broken man from a village of broken men,” Stallone says of his abusive dad, “He was always physical! He hit me! It was hard!” Choppy dialogue and sometimes inarticulate thoughts are punctuated (as sweet relief) by interviews with others – Talia Shire, Arnold, Stallone’s brother, and Henry Winkler – who sort of re-explain what Stallone is trying to say.
The abrupt “And then this happened” narrative (“No one would cast me, so I wrote a film for myself”) bounces from one event to the next with no nuance or details. Sadly, Stallone’s over-reliance on Botox and facelift procedures makes it a hard movie to watch sometimes. The more the camera lingers on his unnaturally lifted eyebrows and bloated face, the more alien he appears. The entire film suffers from “tell not show.” Stallone meanders around talking about movies he made but instead of seeing clips from those films, we are watching him stare out windows or gesture at the rocky statue in his home. The few clips we do see don’t always match the voice-over narration.
There are interesting topics that arise in the film – how he actually wrote 17 screenplays before Rocky, the fact that with Adrienne he was able to do what most Hollywood writers can’t – create a well-rounded, authentic female character who is neither a victim nor a vixen, and how his wife and kids (who we learn nothing about) are everything to him. As quickly as these ideas arise, they vanish like smoke before we can grasp on and get something.
Like most people who were kids in the 80’s I grew up watching Rocky and Rambo – cheering for the underdog and singing Eye of the Tiger. I liked Stallone then, and I like him now. This documentary, however, shows little of the man, the myth, or the movies that made him.