‘Beckham,’ ‘Sly’ and the Challenge of Objective Filmmaking

Willard Rich

“Sly” has been criticized for being too generous to its star. Reviewing the film for The Guardian, Charles Bramesco wrote that “puff pieces don’t get much puffier than this,” and lambasted Zimny for his “hindering obsequiousness.” While Stallone is open about his past and his feelings, the film doesn’t spend an especially long time on his cinematic failures. Critically maligned vehicles like “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” are glossed over, and few of the talking heads have anything really negative to say.

Zimny insisted that he was not obliged to defer to Stallone. “There was never notes from him,” he said. “If anything, he’d watch the film and come back and express that he was really happy with it. You’re working with someone to give you space to make a film better.” In the documentary, Stallone is shown as a frequent tinkerer who constantly altered scripts, changed endings and improvised dialogue during shoots. Zimny said that desire for control wasn’t evident here. “I completely acknowledge that the story of ‘Sly’ contradicts the experience that I had as a documentary filmmaker,” he said.

Pete Nicks, the director of the recent Apple TV+ film “Stephen Curry: Underrated,” about the Golden State Warriors point guard, said that “celebrity is a veneer,” and explained, “For documentarians, our craft is about pushing past that veneer.” Celebrity subjects, he said, inevitably have handlers, managers and representatives, and it can be a challenge for filmmakers “to work within that and still find authenticity.”

Curry’s production company, Unanimous, was among the film’s backers, though as Nicks was quick to clarify, Curry himself was not a credited producer. Nicks said that he had some creative disagreements with the company about the direction of the movie. For instance, Curry’s people wanted to include interviews with Barack Obama and Drake, but Nicks wanted to include only people who fit organically.

Still, it’s hard to deny that the film presents an overwhelmingly positive depiction of its subject. “Underrated” is continually reminding us that Curry beat the odds, overcame doubts, achieved greatness despite reservations. Even the title seems self-mythologizing. “The notion that Curry remains an underdog is humorous to contemplate when you consider that his production company is called Unanimous, so named for the fact that Curry is the only player in the history of the N.B.A. to have received a unanimous vote for the M.V.P. Award,” Jennifer Wilson wrote in The New Republic.

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