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Just one man and his will to survive

Famous for his sad-eyed muscles, Sylvester Stallone isn’t given much credit for his intelligence or perceptive instincts. A storyteller at heart, he understood from the beginning that his biggest roles, Rocky and Rambo, were more than just men made to fight, and in the process helped redefine what an action movie could be.

But once you achieve your dream, not everything is as it seems, he says in the Netflix movie “Sly.” “When I reached the top of the mountain, I thought everything was blue,” he says. “It’s not like that. The air is thinner. It’s a dangerous situation. There aren’t many people there, it’s quite lonely.”

Compared to the multi-episode treatment that most big-name projects like this get, the best thing “Sly” has going for it is its 90-minute running time, but even that feels overly long. Despite Stallone’s engaging presence, this is more of a career retrospective along the lines of A&E’s “Biography” than a documentary, but even the old cable series accomplished the same thing in less than an hour.

Luckily, stars are still writing celebrity memoirs and talking about who they slept with. Or we fought. A good memoir always involves some reckoning on the page. Maybe even some real introspection and reflection about mistakes made. But these documentaries are too cunning, too protective for that. These are PR through and through.

That doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. Just start out with the understanding that you are following a detailed study of marketing and celebrity image management. And Stallone is unquestionably a magnetic screen presence. I wish the movie had captured who he was beyond that. But this does give him the opportunity to make pithy remarks every now and then. “I was raised by a very” – he pauses – “physical father.” He means violence. It’s an irony that he continues to build a career by transforming violence into cinematic art. But he is not asked to think further about this connection.

He has less to say about his mother. Growing up, his family fought. His brother Frank describes them as selfish, so much so that “they held us hostage”, and Stallone says he lived in a boarding house as a child.

Deprived of foster care as a young child, now as an adult “perhaps that nourishment comes from the respect and love of strangers, from feeling embraced and loved by audiences. He is insatiable. I wish I could get over it, but I can’t.”

Cinema was his escape with his dreams of becoming an actor. However, he had difficulty getting a role. “I’ve always been cast as a thug. And I go, okay, that’s right, I am. But I’m also a nice person. I’m a bit of a soft touch. “If you could put those things together, it would be a really great character.”

This led him to write the script of “Rocky”.

Instead of letting Stallone talk at length about each successive sequel, it would be interesting to hear how choices were made in the original, which became iconic signposts from the music (the rousing horns of the “Rocky” theme) to that run. Up the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is also noteworthy that he has nothing to say about the “Creed” movies.

Nor does he mention his ongoing feud with “Rocky” producer Irwin Winkler. It’s a glaring omission because Stallone’s frustrations are no secret. “In recent years, Stallone has made it very clear that, despite the films being inextricably linked to him, he was unhappy with the way the original deal was structured and thought he should take an ownership stake,” Variety said. reported last year.

Maybe there are legal reasons for the film’s silence on this issue. But Stallone himself hasn’t remained silent, so the disconnect is striking. But that’s probably why we never hear a guy with no connections talk about how he was able to sell his script; This is a story that probably warrants mentioning Winkler’s name.

After making “Rocky” in 1976, his next film was Norman Jewison’s 1978 film “FIST,” about labor union strife in which he played a Cleveland warehouse worker. The movie didn’t go anywhere, but the fact that he chose it as a follow-up to his groundbreaking success says a lot about Stallone’s interests.

Sylvester Stallone is behind the camera.

We learn little about his private life. There is no mention of their recent marital strife. In 2012, his son Sage died of a heart attack at the age of 36, and this is touched upon, but Stallone does not speak directly about it. It definitely doesn’t have to. The death of a child is very sad. But how this affected the rest of his life is not something director Thom Zimny ​​brings up. (Zimny ​​is a cottage industry of celebrity projects, having previously worked with Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson.) Also absent: No mention of Stallone’s current series “King of Tulsa” We suggest that Stallone sees this not as a turning point for his career, but as what he’s doing now.

For a window into Stallone’s world, which Pamela Anderson carefully avoided in “Sly” Netflix documentaryReleased earlier this year, it offers a glimpse.

She says Stallone once offered her an apartment and a Porsche to be his No. 1 daughter. “And I was like, ‘Does that mean there’s number 2?’ I said. Oh, oh. And he said: ‘That’s the best offer you’ll ever get, honey; You’re in Hollywood now.’”

“Sneaky” – 2 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: netflix

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic.

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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