Some movies will only really attract huge fans of the subject material. This is especially the case for documentaries and while there are some films that can bridge that gap, for example Grizzly Man or The Armstrong Lie, I doubt Beyond the Mat will be one of them. This is a shame though, because what we get is a look at some extraordinary athletes in a cut-throat business.
Its showing it’s age now but Beyond the Mat takes a behind the scenes look at the amazing life for professional wrestlers, focusing on WWE (WWF back then) and the now defunct ECW, as well as more amateur organisations. It really is a gritty look at the hardcore world of Professional Wrestling.
In fact, it surprises me how behind the scenes the documentary takes us. Especially for the huge company of WWE, which doesn’t come off looking well from the documentary. Wrestlers are treated like property, putting their bodies under unbelievable intensity and the final match featured, between The Rock and Mick Foley’s Mankind, shows how planned the event is but also how manic things can become, showing the brutal outcome from the “sport.”
The really interesting parts are in the athletes who are trying to make it in the business. We get a look at two wrestlers who are auditioning for the WWE and how close they come to making the grade. Add to that the “break or bust” nature of ECW at this point and you get a glimpse at how dominant WWE are in all of this.
It also takes a very good look at the after-effects of the wrestling career, in particular focusing on Jake “the snake” Roberts. With more than a little resemblance to the Mickey Rourke movie “The Wrestler,” the really upsetting point is that Roberts is living the life of a washed-up, broken wrestler, struggling from appearance to appearance. When you see the contrast between the huge, final event and Roberts fighting in a school gym, the divide becomes shockingly clear.
The movie does have a “shelf-life” though and huge aspects of the business have changed since the movies release in 1999. New companies have arrived, wrestlers have changed and Roberts has been welcomed back into the WWE, which itself has developed further and grown into an even bigger company than the one presented here. This may be the closest we get to the behind the scenes, exposing treatment the business could do with though because I’m sure the WWE wouldn’t want exposure like this again.
Overall, regardless of whether you are a fan of wrestling or feel the “sport” is slightly silly, Beyond the Mat demonstrates how hard life as a wrestler can be. It shows the highs, lows and in-betweens of a very, surprisingly cut-throat business that resembles the make or break nature of Hollywood rather than a sports competition. It shows its age but I’m sure the situation hasn’t changed that much.
Rating – 3.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)