Fans of sports documentaries will find a lot to love about Angle, even if they aren’t huge fans of its subject’s choice of pursuits. Director Alex Perry’s look into the surprisingly wide ranging life and career of legit wrestler, olympic gold medalist, and “sports entertainer” Kurt Angle does an exceptional job of making its subject look like both a huge deal professionally and a fascinating, flawed person. A documentary that celebrates hard fought accomplishments and plumbs soul crushing lows with equal balance and empathy, Angle has natural, unforced crowd pleasing tendencies that extend far beyond the ring.
Born into a sport’s minded family just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Kurt Angle transitioned from his beloved sport of football and into the more niche, psychological, and combative sport of wrestling. Angle, a lifelong learner who has excelled at most pursuits he has attempted, was such an accomplished grappler that he trained to make the 1996 Atlanta U.S. Olympic Team under the guidance of the legendary and late Dave Schultz at the now infamous Foxcatcher facilities, owned by John du Pont. Bouncing back from tragedies personal and private (including the death of his father at a young age) and wrestling with a broken neck, Angle was able to achieve his Olympic dreams.
All of this is covered in the first half of Angle, and Perry does an wonderful job of placing a good amount of reverence and emotional weight on the bedrock that would form the future WWE superstar’s career to follow. Without knowing all of the ins, outs, highs, and lows of Angle’s early years, it would make the more outwardly entertaining aspects of his later career ring a lot more hollow. Although interviews with Angle’s brothers, friends, coaches, and colleagues provide a lot of context, it’s Perry’s subject who speaks most thoughtfully and with a perfect amount of hindsight when looking back at those early years. Kurt Angle, not long retired from in ring competition, speaks about his path to success with equal parts confidence and humility; a man who knows he has achieved greatness few will ever experience and made mistakes that could’ve killed most people in a similar position.
Angle would’ve been a great documentary even if it had ended with the 1996 Olympics, but most will probably give it a watch to relive the wrestler’s pivot into the wild, character driven world of professional wrestling. Although he was classically trained to be a mat technician, Kurt Angle was able to naturally transition to a medium that placed athletic physicality on an even plane with storytelling chops. Angle could effortlessly switch up his style for the cameras, fully capable of playing a goofy, delusional, comedic version of himself, a plucky underdog hero worth rooting for, or a terse, menacing, unstoppable threat. But the rigours of life on the road would take more of a toll on Angle’s already dodgy body, and a combination of opioid addiction, risky surgeries, and sometimes outright bad luck would threaten to destroy his livelihood and home life, just when he was starting a family with his partner.
There are moments in Angle that are tough to watch, but Perry and his subject are willing to reflect and examine what they mean in context of a larger life. Angle himself isn’t afraid to get emotional, especially when talking about his struggles with addiction and how he saw them reflected in his sister’s battles with drugs. By the time it wraps up, Angle has showcased in perfect harmony all the reasons why someone would want to be a wrestler and all the ways such a career could go horrifically wrong. The fact that Angle is around to share his story when so many of his colleagues aren’t is a testament to his ability to adapt, the very theme that makes Perry’s documentary such a winner.
Angle is available to stream in the US on Peacock.
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