Sly movie review: Sly is one of the best documentaries of the year

Sly. Sylvester Stallone in Sly. Cr. Rob DeMartin/Netflix © 2023
Sly. Sylvester Stallone in Sly. Cr. Rob DeMartin/Netflix © 2023 /

The 2023 AFI Festival continues with a documentary taking a look at the Hollywood icon Sylvester Stallone in the Netflix original movie Sly. Director Thom Zimny gives us an inside look at one of the biggest action stars of our time.

Sly gives an intimate look at the actor, writer, director, and action legend Sylvester Stallone. From his rough upbringing to his creation of Rocky to his rise and fall within Hollywood, we see a side of Stallone we’ve never seen before with commentary from his brother Frank Stallone, Quentin Tarantino, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

As a young kid from Allentown, Pennsylvania, not too far outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, watching Rocky for the first time was something special. Fast forward to many years later and re-watching it with a more critical lens, I appreciated it even more. However, the on-screen story of Rocky Balboa is equally as inspiring as the story of the man who created and played him.

The Sly documentary gives an inside look at one of the biggest stars of our time

After many years of trying to break into the acting world, Sylvester Stallone knew the only way he could act on the big screen was if he wrote a part for himself. That was the birth of Rocky, but after writing the part, the studio had zero desire to let Stallone play the role of Rocky. Even though he had only a hundred dollars in his bank account, he turned down a couple hundred thousand dollar offer for the script and took a massive risk on himself.

But with Sly, we realize this is only part of the story. He grew up in a broken home that saw his parents split, and this is where we learn that Stallone had parted from his brother by living with his father, while Frank moved in with his mother. Frank Stallone Sr. was a ruthless, angry, and abusive father.

Sly documentary
TORONTO, ONTARIO – SEPTEMBER 16: Sylvester Stallone attends Netflix’s “Sly” world premiere during the Toronto International Film Festival at Roy Thomson Hall on September 16, 2023 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Ryan Emberley/Getty Images for Netflix) /

Sly’s relationship with Frank wasn’t great, and we hear many of the things that he did that led to their relationship being very broken for the majority of Sly’s life. One of the things that blew me away was learning how Sly tried to fix this relationship with the characters he wrote.

It was this moment that made this larger-than-life movie star even more relatable to me. My relationship with my mother is something that I continuously struggle with, and I often chase the variances of that relationship in movies that I watch, knowing deep down that I can’t fix what’s right in front of me. Stallone’s ability to try to fix the unfixable in the only way he knew how to is powerful.

Sly dives into the highs and lows becoming an overnight star

Throughout this film, we dive into the highs and lows of how becoming this overnight star hindered Stallone. He almost took for granted his ability to write to challenge those who would write films for him leading to a massive run of failures in theaters.

Although we hear from former co-stars like Talia Shire (Adrian in Rocky), Henry Winkler, and even Quentin Tarantino, but director Thom Zimny wisely lets Stallone tell much of the story in his own words making it even more powerful.

My childhood was running up those infamous Rocky stairs in Philadelphia, and my adulthood was taking my wife to them and posing with the Rocky statue. That fictional character inspired many people with his actions and words, including me. Stallone had a significant impact on various stages of my life, and because of that, my journey with Sly was personal.

Not only is Sly one of the best documentaries of the year, but it’s one of the best movies of 2023. If you are like me and a fan of Stallone, this is a must-see documentary when it drops on Netflix.

Sly releases on Netflix on Nov. 3, 2023. 

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