LONDON: The mark of a great documentary is when audiences feel like they’ve learned something — when a hitherto unexplored world is examined and explained in a way that makes sense or interrogated and investigated in order to shed new light on things previously unseen. A truly phenomenal documentary, however, not only does all of the above, but it makes viewers actually care about the world they’re exploring.
Netflix’s “Wrestlers” is a remarkable piece of filmmaking. Director Greg Whiteley (“Last Chance U,” “Cheer”) and his team have created an emotional, intimate look inside the world of the Ohio Valley Wrestling league. Once the pathway to the big time (with alumni that include Brock Lesnar, The Miz, John Cena, Dave Bautista, Randy Orton and others), OVW is struggling to make ends meet. New investors Matt Jones and Craig Greenberg have rescued the franchise, for now, but find themselves in conflict with owner (and legendary wrestler) Al Snow, as their desire to increase revenue and marketability comes up against Snow’s uncompromising commitment to crafting storylines and matches of the utmost quality.
Whiteley takes us deep into the lives of Snow, the new owners, and the wrestlers — standouts include Cash Flo, Shera and Haley J, but there are so many fascinating characters at the heart of OVW that seven episodes don’t feel even close to enough. By showing us their lives, and just how much wrestling means to them, the day-to-day grind of keeping the league afloat feels uncompromisingly real. It’s genuinely heartbreaking to see the efforts of Snow and his roster of wrestlers draw in just a few extra attendees, and it’s jaw-droppingly uncomfortable to get a firsthand glimpse of the stresses Jones and Snow are under as they reach the culmination of OVW’s summer tour.
To reveal anything more would undermine the gravitas of the season finale, which deserves to be seen far and wide. “Wrestlers” is a remarkable show. Whether or not you care about wrestling at the start, you’ll care about the people behind OVW by the time the curtain drops on season one. Here’s hoping there’s more in store.