Movie ReviewsJosh Reviews Sly

Josh Reviews Sly

Sly, directed by Thom Zimny, is an engaging, fascinating look back at the life and career of Sylvester Stallone.

The film is structured around a series of interviews with Mr. Stallone, in and around his expansive home as it’s getting packed up for a move.

I loved the way the film allowed Mr. Stallone to tell his own story, looking back at his life and his body of work.  I was surprised by how vulnerable Mr. Stallone was, and how complex and interesting his life’s journey has been!

The film explores Mr. Stallone’s childhood and his tempestuous relationship with his father.  It’s fascinating to discover how rough Mr. Stallone’s youth was (as well as the origin of Mr. Stallone’s distinctive facial grimace, the result of complications from his difficult birth).

We get a lot of time, of course, spent on both the development of Rocky and the ripple effects that film had on Mr. Stallone’s career that followed, including the many sequels.  (However, I was surprised that nothing was said about the Creed series.  I’d have been interested to hear from Mr. Stallone about both his feelings about the first — amazing — Creed film, as well as his exclusion from Creed III.)  I was particularly interested in learning about Mr. Stallone’s struggles in the years following Rocky’s enormous success, as the next several movies he made all failed to connect with audiences or critics the way that first Rocky did.  It’s interesting to hear Mr. Stallone’s reflections on those failures; why he made the choices he did at the time, and how he adapted and managed to break out of that slump by making Rocky 2, which wasn’t an immediate and obvious choice the way a sequel would be these days.

There are some additional interviews to flesh out this film (it’s interesting to hear from Quentin Tarantino, Wesley Morris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and others), but I love that the film is centered on the conversation with Sly.  Interestingly, Sly isn’t seated for much if any of this interview.  Instead, the camera follows him as he moves around his house (and, later, visits some of his old neighborhood haunts).  It’s a smart choice by Mr. Zimny and his team; it gives the film a visual energy, and I suspect that allowing Sly to be mobile allowed him to be more comfortable and open than he might have been sitting stuck in a chair for hours.

The strength of this film is that it brings a humanity and relatability to this super-star.  The weakness is that it’s a little light on exploring his flaws.  For instance, I wish the film had gotten a little more deeply into Mr. Stallone’s (apparently somewhat complicated) personal and family life.  There are a few allusions to some marriages and the tragic death of his son; but not being fluent on Mr. Stallone’s personal life, I was confused and/or surprised by some of those comments and wish the film had explored those areas a little more deeply.  I don’t need juicy gossip; it’s rather that I was interested in Mr. Stallone’s family situation; I think that would have added some useful color to this portrait of Mr. Stallone.  (I guess the film assumes that the general audience knows those details.  In an interview, Mr. Zimny commented: “I didn’t expand out to every film or every detail of his personal life, or every marriage or details of his family currently because I felt like that stuff is available.”  I wonder to what degree that is accurate; I know that for myself, I don’t know those details.)

At a brisk run-time of about an hour and a half, Sly blows by.  I could have happily watched an hour more!  This is an entertaining film; a well-deserved spotlight on one of the giants of cinema for the past almost half-century.  (Wow!)

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