Hot Docs: The Sheik Review

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The Sheik (2014)

Cast: Jack Black, Jim Duggan, Mick Foley
Director: Igal Hecht
Country: Canada
Genre: Documentary
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival. For more information please visit hotdocs.ca or follow Hot Docs on Twitter.

As a fan, I am always wary of documentaries or books dealing with professional wrestling. I don’t want to know about what happens behind the scenes, or how things are set up. I’d rather keep my views of past hero battles as glorious as when I first saw them on the small screen. Yet in learning about wrestling one gets exposed to wrestling terminology and with it the words “heat, the shoot, the sell, the work,” become part of your vernacular and the eventual realization to the fakeness of the sport. First there’s denial, then there’s acceptance. Thus, it takes the right kind of storytelling to muster up something compelling to fans and non-fans alike about a world that can be so foreign and so loved in its workings.

Hecht’s style is a mish mash of sensationalism and raw subject views giving it a wrestling media feel while still trying to keep it down to earth.

thesheik_2-1Igal Hecht’s The Sheik follows The Iron Sheik aka Khosrow Vaziri’s life from the time he was an Iranian soldier, bodyguard to the Shah, professional wrestler, and to his time today. Much is revealed via interviews, collages of photos, footage of Vaziri, his contemporaries, and celebrities, including: Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson (The Rock), and many others. Due to America’s friction with the Middle East, the World Wrestling Federation exploded when the ultimate babyface, Hulk Hogan, fought against the ultimate heel, The Iron Sheik. Both benefitted from the match and thus two legends and a franchise flourished.

Yet Vaziri’s life hasn’t been all wine and roses. While his friends and family praise him as a stand up guy, he’s a conflicted soul. His daughter’s murder in 2003 ossified Vasiri’s down turn of a life of drug addiction and an uncertain future. The camera follows Vassiri as he searches for his next score, while it profiles his family’s concerns about his welfare. It’s a little jarring to see him kind of lose it and then twist the reasoning for his need for the high. The third part of the film becomes an intervention of sorts. For all of The Sheik’s ostentatiousness, Hecht keeps the lens locked on him revealing The Sheik to be flawed and human.

While the film goes in depths with some matters (segments on Hulkmania drag a little bit), it passes over other subplots without delving deeper into them. However, Hecht’s style is a mish mash of sensationalism and raw subject views giving it a wrestling media feel while still trying to keep it down to earth. Much of the cameos of aged and worn down wrestlers ground this film. It’s disconcerting to watch wrestling heroes such as Jake the Snake, Nikolai Volkoff, and Koko B. Ware weary and run down. This is the life Vaziri has lived and that most wrestlers have followed. Where do fighters go after the fights are done? Some of them continue to fight in various franchises, or in small conventions, high schools gyms, or even dive bars. After years of wrestling and partying, Vasiri is barely able to walk. The filmmakers do their best to get The Sheik back on his own two feet and help him create the Twitter sensation he is today.

The Sheik is a riveting documentary for wrestling fans and an entertaining insight into the wrestling medium for non-fans. It is by far not an expose of the industry, but a portrait of man who’s experienced fame, fortune, darkness, and eventual redemption.

7.5 GOOD

The Sheik is a riveting documentary for wrestling fans and an entertaining insight into the wrestling medium for non-fans. It is by far not an expose of the industry, but a portrait of man who’s experienced fame, fortune, darkness, and eventual redemption.

  • 7.5
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About Author

I'm a published writer, illustrator, and film critic. Cinema has been a passion of mine since my first viewing of Milius' Conan the Barbarian and my film tastes go from experimental to modern blockbuster.