Reviewed by: Nick Graham
|Featuring||Terry Funk, Mick Foley, Jake Roberts, Roland Alexander, Vince McMahon|
|Producer||Barry Blaustein, Ron Howard, Barry Bloom|
|Distributor||Lions Gate Films|
Pro wrestling is a spectacle many love, many scoff at, many laugh at, and more recently, many blast for amoral content, (and though I am a lifelong fan, the amoral content criticisms are justified in quite a few cases).
“Beyond The Mat” is a documentary that looks past all the controversy surrounding the currently hugely popular pseudo-sport, and focuses directly on the men involved. What drives a man from teaching third grade English to allowing himself to be thrown through tables and smashed with folding chairs for a living? What causes a man to risk severe injury (one of the wrestlers the film follows, Darren Drozdov, was recently paralyzed from the waist down in the ring after his opponent botched an elementary move) just for the sake of entertaining thousands of strangers who in many cases don’t even know his real name?
Barry Blaustein, a screenwriter and former scribe for “Saturday Night Live”, tries to peer inside the concussion prone noggin’ of the modern pro wrestler, and what he gets is a revealing, sometimes funny, sometimes wince-inducing, and sometimes downright depressing look at the “superheroes” many idolize as children, and some of us (including Blaustein and myself) continue to admire into adulthood.
The film follows various wrestlers in different stages of their careers. We see young hopefuls trying to go from wrestling for $25 on the weekend to making 6 figure salaries in the big promotions. We see Mick Foley, a compassionate husband and father of two, as he tries to find balance between a family scared for his life (when you see the above-and-beyond the call of duty stunts Foley performs during his matches, you’ll know why), and a business he has loved since childhood… a business he is currently attaining great wealth and popularity at.
We meet Terry Funk, at over 60-years-old a legend in the business, as he contemplates finally retiring after a doctor tells him if he doesn’t have both of his knees surgically replaced, he will live in agony for the rest of his life. (His retirement doesn’t last long, and he continues to wrestle to this day.)
We also meet Jake “The Snake” Roberts… a man who has gone from making hundreds of thousands of dollars and attaining huge popularity, to a life consisting of alcoholism, drug addiction, and trying to makes ends meet on the weekends grasping at the few remaining strands of his fame. Roberts is a psychological disaster, rambling on about his disturbing family life as a child, his indulgences of celebrity excess during his glory years in the sport, and the subsequent free fall into 24-hour misery that those excesses and family problems led to. We see Roberts meet with his college age daughter, and with his father, neither of which are very happy occasions… a fact illustrated by the fact that afterwards he sulks in his hotel room, smoking crack, trying to come up with excuses for all the misery in his life and in his families life.
“Beyond The Mat” is not just a fluff piece made by a wrestling fan… (something proven by the fact that billionaire wrestling promoter Vince McMahon is trying his hardest to snuff any chances of success the film has)… it is instead a man looking at his childhood heroes, and in some cases the heroes of his own children, and showing that they are all too human.
The film has some profanity, namely the f-word is thrown around about 15 times by various people in the film. It also has some very bloody scenes from “death matches” (Foley and Funk have wrestled in Japan where the ropes around the ring are switched with barbed wire!). As a Christian, I would recommend “Beyond the Mat” for its intended viewing audience of older teenagers and adults. I would also recommend it strongly to people who are in no way, shape, or form wrestling fans, especially after reading the Kansas City Star’s review where the critic basically accused all wrestling fans of being complete morons, yet praised the film and its participants to no end.