Professional wrestling is big business. Brands like Raw, SmackDown Live, and WWE NXT continue to build excitement among fans in this “sport” that is developing a global footprint. But traditional, amateur wrestling, they kind where the rules are a bit more defined and there is less showmanship and more sportsmanship? Well, those matches might not be so well attended. I preface this review with that information simply to say, this reviewer thinks it was a gutsy move to make a heartwarming, underdog movie about the sport of high school wrestling.
Of course, The Last Champion is not exactly about high school wrestling. The sport just happens to be the foil for the real story which is about the competitive drive to win at all costs, which can lead to destructive behavior, which can result in dishonor, disgrace, shame, and emotional ruin… and (spoiler alert) it is about repentence, forgiveness, restitution, and redemption.
A former championship wrestler is forced to face his past when he returns to the hometown he left in disgrace twenty years earlier. Can he become the hero his town expected… or will he remain a prisoner of his past mistakes?
John Wright was a hometown hero – the powerful star of his high school wrestling team and a promising Olympian. He could have had it all… but one bad decision destroyed his dreams and forced him to leave under a cloud of scandal that has haunted him ever since.
Fast forward 20 years. John returns to his small town after his mother’s death, hoping to save his family home from foreclosure. His icy reception proves his former friends and neighbors still haven’t forgiven him for letting them down. Unexpectedly, John gets the opportunity to turn everything around – by coaching his high school’s wrestling team. There he meets Michael, a talented underdog with a troubled home life, facing a vicious opponent out to destroy him both on and off the mat. Can John become the leader the team and Michael needs, or will he lose himself to the dark demons of his past?
There’s a lot to like about The Last Champion. It is an inspirational family sports drama that includes some wonderful cinematography, nuanced acting, and a satisfying payoff. On the upside, it was pretty cool to see real life sports announcer Jason Bryant and Olympic wrestling legend Randy Lewis portraying themselves in the championship scene. On the down side, the film is a bit slow out of the gate, and with a run time of a bit over 2 hours, it could have stood a tighter edit.
Will a film about individual athletes overcoming their personal demons set against the backdrop of high school wrestling catch fire with fans? It worked for a little independent film about the sport of competitive running call Chariots of Fire, so who knows? I left feeling good. And that’s enough for me.