Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows
The story hook is that Hart’s final match is known as the Montreal Screwjob. Hart went into the match (with Shawn Michaels) under the impression that he would be disqualified, and in so doing be allowed to keep the title belt. However, Michaels – not to mention the referee – were under different orders: to perform a “quick count,” giving Michaels the win and the title, and sending Hart to WCW in disgrace.
All of this seems very serious for a form of entertainment that basically involved men in spandex beating on each other, and it is.
But then, that’s what makes this documentary so compulsively watchable. Bret Hart seems like a real life version of the character Mickey Rourke played in The Wrestler… he’s in the twilight years of his career, but he doesn’t seem to know how to wind down.
One particular story is telling.
Hart recounts the day he fought the schoolyard bully when he was young, and won. He talks about the feeling that gave him; the buzz of having the other kids know how tough he was. He says the feeling he gets from “beating” other wrestlers in front of crowds of thousands is very much the same.
While Hart makes no bones about wrestling being “real” (beyond it being physically punishing), he takes it very seriously. His ego is huge, he hates being booked to lose, and he sees himself as a real hero.
Wrestling With Shadows features no narration whatsoever, it simply allows the events (and Hart) to speak for themselves.
This is incredibly effective.
At one point, Hart laments that often wrestlers are treated as circus animals by their bosses. But the irony is, this documentary paints a pictures of individuals who thrive in this circus-like environment, and who struggle to separate fact from fantasy.
There is filmic bliss in watching Hart struggle with the scriptwriters decision to turn him into a “bad guy” at one point.
Like The Wrestler, Wrestling With Shadows works beyond the confines of its genre by focussing on a character and story arc you can’t take your eyes off.
Reviewed by: Rhett Snell