If you've ever watched an interview with Sylvester Stallone, particularly on the subject of 'Rocky', it's impossible not to be moved by how emotional he gets about both the character and how he came into being.
In fact, there's a terrific interview Stallone recorded for the movie's 25th anniversary that's about lucid and articulate as any actor or writer has ever been about their work. Indeed, there's a line from that interview that, in a way, sums up the experience of watching 'Sly' - "When I say it, you won't believe it, but when Rocky says it, you believe it."
'Sly' catches up with the action hero as he's packing up his house in sunny Los Angeles and making a move back to where it all began for him - New York. There's an affecting moment when Stallone walks down his old haunt in Hell's Kitchen and talks about his old life, the realism of it, and how he started out hustling his way into the movie business with John Hertzfeld. Here and there, those discussed by Stallone turn up to talk about their memories. Henry Winkler recalls finding Stallone, after starring together in 'Lords of Flatbush', and his entire life crammed into a brokedown car on a street in Los Angeles and finding him a place to live. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about how he and Stallone had a bitter rivalry over the years, but laugh heartily about it now. Quentin Tarantino provides a wider context, discussing Stallone's early work such as 'Paradise Alley'.
Most if not all of 'Sly' is devoted to his extensive filmography, Stallone's recollections and the topsy-turvy world of filmmaking. "If you've got 25 movies to make in your life, would you pick these? Probably not," he chuckles, while discussing the likes of farcical opera 'Oscar' and the likes of James Mangold's underrated crime thriller 'Cop Land'. Here in these moments, 'Sly' is at its best - it's a human, compassionate look at an actor's life and career, the disparate influences, the highs and the lows, and where they landed. What 'Sly' leaves out, and it feels like a conspicuous absence, is his personal life. Apart from briefly discussing his son Sage's passing, Stallone mostly focuses on the tumultuous and complicated relationship he had with his father, Frank Stallone Sr.
Even now, some thirty years after the incident, the actor recalls with absolute clarity where his father - a polo enthusiast - threw him off his horse during a gala match that was bankrolled by him. Stallone recalls selling off the horses, the gear and dismantling the entire operation overnight and never playing the sport again. Yet, for all of this honesty, Stallone neglects the murkier and less successful moments in his own life. His short-lived and tempestuous marriage to Brigitte Nielsen is completely ignored, not to mention his failed ventures like Planet Hollywood, or some of the murkier accusations through the years.
Yet, for all of this selective history, 'Sly' makes for an entertaining watch that charts an extraordinary career with a compassionate and sentimental approach.