‘Wrestle’ Review: On the Mat, Fighting for a Future

‘Wrestle’ Review: On the Mat, Fighting for a Future

February 21, 2019

Profiling four members of an underdog high-school wrestling team in Huntsville, Alabama, “Wrestle” constructs an empathetic portrait of a mat that’s anything but level.

Filmed in 2015-16 during its third season, the team is already defeating more experienced and better-financed opponents. Yet, as the countdown to the State Championship begins, we see how deprivation can hobble the most promising talent. Parents are incarcerated or otherwise invisible, and the school, with one of the highest concentrations of poor students in the state, has been listed as failing for years. Resources for athletics are virtually nonexistent.

Capturing over 600 hours of vérité footage, the directors Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer observe the young men’s chaotic personal lives as closely as their wrestling. Sinisa Kukic’s camera is gentle and unobtrusive (he and Herbert moved to Huntsville for the duration), quietly watching as Jailen, fine-boned and wide-eyed, is accused by the police of public urination; the genial Jaquan is pulled over for a dimming taillight; and Jamario battles anxiety over the pressure to graduate and provide for his pregnant girlfriend. Their teammate Teague, given to ingenious last-minute contortions on the mat, cheerfully admits to being prescribed multiple medications that he doesn’t take, preferring to self-medicate with marijuana.

Watched over by their inexhaustible and caring young coach, Chris Scribner — a former screw-up who recognizes that the chances he was given will probably be denied his students — the four stumble toward State. “Wrestle” isn’t slick or impartial, and doesn’t claim to be, yet the movie has a raw honesty that disdains forced uplift. So when we hear the words “I need help,” the plea is so generally applicable that it scarcely matters who has spoken.


Movie data powered by IMDb.com

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.

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