As depicted in the latest film Sly, the life story of Sylvester Stallone bears a striking resemblance to one of his iconic Rocky movies. Just like in his roles as writer, lead actor, and eventual director, Stallone’s real-life narrative follows the classic formula of an inspiring tale about an ambitious young person from humble beginnings who defies the odds to achieve success and then proves everyone wrong when they doubt him.
He breaks through these overused expressions of success by truly experiencing them, as seen in his authentic working-class accent and tough-guy philosopher way of speaking. Growing up in Hell’s Kitchen when it was still a rough area, he remained confident and athletic despite his father’s constant abuse. He fought his way into the entertainment industry through sheer determination. Despite not fitting the traditional leading-man mold, he created the iconic role of Rocky Balboa, who defied his tough circumstances with skill and determination. This brought him both critical acclaim and financial success, which waned during less successful projects in the 1990s and early 2000s. However, his comeback with The Expendables solidified him as a respected and powerful figure in the world of macho action films.
The story is pleasant, but also lacks depth and is not entirely truthful, showing the director, Thom Zimny, as too eager to please. This piece is overly flattering, as it was approved by Netflix, and portrays the executive producer of their popular show Ultimate Beastmaster as resilient. Any potentially complex aspects of Stallone’s character have been smoothed over. The only moment where he is less than perfect is when he admits to regretting not spending more time with his family due to his work (which is relatable to many). This favorable portrayal does a disservice to a truly intriguing anomaly in the film industry, reducing a unique movie star to a one-dimensional role model.
Wesley Morris, a cultural commentator, and Stallone himself deserve credit for their understanding of Stallone’s acting style and presence in the film. According to Morris, Stallone’s primary talent lies in his ability to give audiences what they want by playing to his strengths – his strong and rugged charisma and masculinity, which also showcases his sensitivity without compromising his tough image. This combination of physical strength and emotional depth was perfect for the cultural climate of the Reagan era. Stallone also displays self-awareness about his limitations and acknowledges that he excels in playing roles that fit his established type, rather than attempting to showcase versatility. He humorously admits that he is not suited for Shakespearean roles, adding a touch of levity to the film as he reflects on his unsuccessful attempt at a screwball comedy in 1991.
The film suffers from the actor’s careful curation of his public image, as Stallone avoids addressing uncomfortable or controversial aspects of himself. While it’s understandable for a project made with the subject’s cooperation to ignore allegations of sexual assault that have damaged his reputation as an American icon, Zimny could have delved deeper into Stallone’s reluctance to take a political stance and his desire to maintain a broad fan base. The actor briefly mentions the strain of bodybuilding during his prime, but conveniently leaves out any mention of the physical effects of steroids on his body – perhaps to avoid discussing his 2007 arrest for illegal possession of human growth hormones. Additionally, there is no acknowledgement of his early work in the softcore porn film The Party at Kitty and Stud’s, which is often overlooked in his career history.
The most notable absence in the structure of the film may be Creed. This serves as the logical conclusion for the story arc, as Zimny skillfully guides it with input from Stallone. The quasi-reboot of the Rocky franchise was a huge success, earning critical acclaim and an Academy Award nomination for Stallone’s role as a supporting actor. However, for Stallone, this raises an issue – he is not willing to play second fiddle to anyone, and he sees Creed as the anointing of a new top star, Michael B Jordan. This choice reveals the egotistical side that often underlies biographical documentaries, which tend to glorify their subjects rather than provide a balanced perspective. In her report on a Netflix-sponsored exhibition of Stallone’s paintings at the Toronto international film festival in September, Chloe Lizotte describes how the artist’s face was “plastered” all over the venue, creating an immersive environment that blurs the line between art and advertising. Stallone embodies this spirit of blatant self-promotion while disguising it as modesty, presenting a sanitized and convincing image of himself as a product, rather than showing his true self.
On November 3rd, Netflix will have the show “Sly” available for streaming.