Sylvester Stallone looks back on his life and career in this valedictory documentary directed by Thom Zimny.
Who is Sylvester Stallone? He’s Rocky Balboa, of course, and also John Rambo, and Barney Ross, the guy who runs the team of aging action heroes known as The Expendables. But he’s also an artist who’s spent the last half-century trying to prove he’s more than just a guy from Hell’s Kitchen — to his critics, to his family, and most of all, to himself.
As Stallone literally packs up his stuff to move to Palm Beach from Hollywood, filmmaker Thom Zimny — who hung out with Bruce Springsteen for the thoughtful, casually valedictory documentary Western Stars (TIFF ’19) — helps him sift through his metaphorical baggage and come to terms with his status as a cultural touchstone.
Sly shows us Stallone’s rough beginnings in New York City as a troubled kid who’d escape his angry household to watch movies all day with his brother Frank Jr., and then come home to write scripts himself. Zimny leads Stallone through his rollercoaster career, which exploded when Rocky — a role he had to fight to play, despite having written the damn movie — catapulted him to a level of stardom for which he was entirely unprepared.
And finally, the documentary sees its subject explore, perhaps for the first time, how the vulnerability and reflexive kindness of Rocky Balboa let him spend decades filtering his own impossible experiences through drama, and be the man he always wanted to be. There’s a reason it was the role of his life.
Official Selection, 2023 Toronto International Film Festival
Content advisory: violence