It's a directorial debut for acclaimed writer Barry Blaustein ("Saturday Night Live", "Coming to America", "Boomerang", "The Nutty Professor"), and it's a subject matter close to his heart - professional wrestling.
Blaustein tells it from the off that he was a huge fan of wrestling as a child and still watches to this day. He also explains that while wrestling matches are pre-determined and major parts of a match are worked out between the wrestlers and the writers, the better wrestlers are the ones who can work together and put together a good match on the fly, calling spots during the action.
if his aim is to investigate what life is like for American wrestlers - hard-working professionals who are dismissed by many as nothing more than pumped-up stunt men - he may succeed in changing that view for a lot of people.
The main drive of his vision is to study some of the legends of the sport. Terry Funk, a 53-year old Texan with shot knees; Mick Foley, 33, minus half his left ear and a few front teeth; Jake Roberts, 40-something with a cocaine addiction and a dysfunctional family. He also spends some time with the industries revolutionary, Vince McMahon, and independent promoter, Paul Heyman.
The footage is incredible at times. Foley, a good man with a beautiful wife and young kids, balances his love for the sport with his love for his family. We see his kids crying, watching Daddy getting hit with a chair continuously. His wife, clearly unhappy with her husband's career, knows that it is what he loves and reluctantly lets him get on with it, dropping hints that enough is enough from time to time.
Terry Funk has been wrestling 32 years. His knee needs to be totally replaced. He struggles to walk but still is able to perform admirably in the ring. His family all want him to retire and despite continuously doing so, he is always lured back to the sport.
Jake Roberts is by far the most intriguing of the three (and that's saying something). Lauded during the documentary as one of the all-time greats by the likes of Vince McMahon and his head of talent recruitment Jim Ross, Roberts has sunk into a degrading life of drugs and alcohol. His relationship with his family is non-existent and he tells the disturbing tale of how his mother gave birth to him at thirteen after being raped by her mother's boyfriend.
He also speaks of his loveless relationship with his father and describes his psychology-studying daughter (whom he is reunited with temporarily on camera) as a 'freak'.
If ever there was evidence that wrestling is "real", that was it. A stunning examination of a perceived "pretend" industry, "Beyond the Mat" should be seen by cynics. After seeing it, you'll understand why you owed these men that much.