A Review by Jason L. King
Starring: Bret Hart, Blade Hart, Owen Hart, Stu Hart, Vince McMahon
Directed by: Paul Jay
Rated: R for brief language and violence
Movie Released: 1998
If you seek out any male that was born in the 80’s you will be hard pressed to find one that wasn’t a WWF fan. Now known as the WWE, The World Wrestling Federation of the 80’s was a different time. It was a time where big names like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant ruled the earth, fighting off evil villains such as The Undertaker, The Million Dollar Man, and Ravishing Rick Rude. Back in those days there was black and white and no shades of grey. A wrestler was either the hero or the villain. They dressed up and played out some of the most outlandish characters the sport has ever known. But at the end of the day, you knew the good from the bad. The good guy always stood up for what was right, and even if he lost at the end of the day, it was because of a good ol’ fashioned “screw job” by the bad guy.
The film Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows takes you back to that time, when pro-wrestling was in it’s 80’s prime, all the way up to the 90’s WWE/WCW showdown. The film follows Canadian wrestler Bret “The Hitman” Hart for a year behind the scenes of the pro wrestling universe. Hart tells his tale of his upbringing, and being the son of famed submission wrestler Stu Hart. As director Paul Jay follows Bret for a year behind the scenes of pro wrestling for his documentary, he gets to witness the unfolding of perhaps one of pro wrestling’s most controversial WWF real life career endings, known to wrestling fans as “The Montreal Screw Job.”
Before you go off dismissing this documentary as a complete joke, hear me out on this one. Director Paul Jay does a very nice job of taking you behind the scenes in the wrestling world. If you’ve ever wondered how the day in the life of a wrestler is like, Jay’s film gives you a inside look at the life of a WWE legend. The Hitman was known through the 80’s as the hero in pink and black, the excellence of execution and one of the greatest technical wrestlers of all time. Bret Hart brought fans enjoyment for years as Bret “The Hitman” Hart, and it is very interesting to see Bret’s take on how the character developed, and how much the character he plays is much like the person that he is. The mixture between the two characters, and sometimes the fans not being able to separate one from the other is very interesting. Jay’s camera follows Hart from event to event, witnessing everything from the planning of matches (sorry kids, it’s pre-planned you know!), to the actual execution of them.
The film’s eventual climax, is the behind the scenes lead up and execution of “The Montreal Screw Job” and the events that followed. The screw job, is the final night of the then Champ Bret Hart’s WWE career, before he was “urged” to move on to competitor WCW by Vince McMahon. Hart was supposed to leave the ring victorious that night, leaving his Hitman character behind as a champ and home town hero, only to vacate the title the next night and head off to WCW. However, Vince had other plans and unbeknown to Bret, he conspired to con Bret out of his championship. This real life, back stage battle between Hart and the WWE owner led to bad blood and behind the scenes blows between the Harts, Shawn Michaels, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Vince McMahon. It is interesting to just to be a fly on the wall and watch this unfold.
Where this documentary goes wrong is that Bret Hart becomes preachy and tiresome by the film’s conclusion. Even if you grow up loving the Hitman, you have a hard time believing his “I’m the victim” story line, because that theme seems to run deep. You can trace these antics all the way back to his rocky upbringing by his father, who Hart respects and fears. Hart begins preaching about the “glory days” of black and white, right and wrong and how wrestling is no longer a “family show.” The late 90’s became the time of the Monday night battles, WCW’s NWO vs. McMahon’s Degeneration X on the other channel. According Hart, because of this the fans began cheering for “shades of grey.” Fans were more into wrestlers that were vulgar and in your face like DX and Stone Cold Steve Austin, rather than the wholesome heroes of before. Once again, Bret plays the victim, claiming “the fans turned on him”and left him behind for a worse alternative.
All in all, if you were or are a pro wrestling fan, I think this documentary is worth checking out. Like most documentaries, it is one sided, biased and pushes an agenda, but the behind the scenes stuff is still fairly interesting. If you are not the WWE fan, the documentary still holds some weight. It’s flows well, and shows you a rare behind the scenes look at a sport that few others have gained access to. And yes, I do call it a sport. Even if the matches are planned, it takes skill to do what they do. If POKER is a sport, if NASCAR is a sport, I think you can call Hulk Hogan and athlete as well. Many will debate that statement I know. But that is not the point of this documentary or the review itself.
As for Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, I say check it out. It’s an interesting flick. More than likely this will be a love it or hate it type of documentary. But I say give it a shot and see what you think.
At the time of posting, this film is available to view commercial free for free online. You can Click here and have it open in a new window for viewing.