Movie review: 'Sly' brings fascinating insight to Sylvester Stallone's career

Sylvester Stallone discusses his ups and downs in "Sly." File Photo by David Silpa/UPI
1 of 5 | Sylvester Stallone discusses his ups and downs in "Sly." File Photo by David Silpa/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 31 (UPI) -- After Netflix released a three-part docu-series on Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone gets a single film. It makes sense that Sly, premiering Friday on Netflix, has a more focused scope, as Schwarzenegger had three entire careers -- as an athlete, actor and politician.

Sly focuses on the intersection of Stallone's life and creative work, which is exactly what makes his films so special.


Hopefully, nobody still holds the erroneous belief that Stallone is a monosyllabic grunt. You can't write and direct movies without being a good communicator. And that would be a gross misreading of his famous Rocky and Rambo characters, too.

Sly begins with Stallone being philosophical and self-reflective in his art gallery. He continues for 95 minutes.

Stallone is such a consummate performer that he's still compelling in front of director Thom Zimny's camera. He delivers some movie lines as passionately today as he did on screen.


There are some familiar famous stories like how Stallone wouldn't sell the Rocky script unless he got cast. Yet there are other details that haven't been as widely covered, such as the simple place he got the name Balboa.

It is nice to hear Rocky V discussed without outright dismissing it. It's only 3 minutes of Sly, but Stallone, his colleagues and analysts acknowledge its faults while highlighting its worthwhile themes.

It makes sense that most of the movies Stallone talks about are Rocky and Rambo entries, as those franchises paralleled his life and career. He does address his attempt at comedy and the drama Cop Land.

Stallone erroneously calls Cop Land a bomb. It didn't make Rocky/Rambo money, but it was acclaimed, including his performance, and made millions for Miramax. Perhaps Stallone didn't realize that dramas can be hits with smaller grosses.

But films like Cobra, Demolition Man, Rhinestone and The Specialist only appear in brief clips during montages. Stallone fans may have some favorites, but in the grand scheme of Stallone's career, those are just brief phases.

That many of those films were also good illustrates how they benefited from the same qualities Stallone brought to Rocky and Rambo.


Sly emphasizes Stallone's writing, even in movies where he's not the credited screenwriter. That's why most of his movies have Stallone's voice, because he just can't help but make them personal.

The documentary does address the Expendables films because Stallone created those. It also helps explain why Stallone is so reluctant to actually expend any of his heroes.

Stallone's insight brings new depth to his career in Sly. Since Stallone loves franchises so much, perhaps he could do the spinoff about Tango & Cash and Over the Top one day.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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