670 The Score

Bernstein: 'Andre The Giant' Documentary Is Really Good

Nuances and compromises made (or not) once the characters hit the mat were revealed.

Dan Bernstein
April 11, 2018 - 2:05 pm
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By Dan Bernstein--
670TheScore.com senior columnist

(670 The Score) Not knowing much at all about professional wrestling turns out to make watching "Andre the Giant" that much more interesting.

As someone to whom the whole enterprise meant little, it afforded me a chance to learn more than I expected about the business itself, with so many important moments in its development happening to involve the ostensible subject of the story. Andre the man remains lightly sketched over the 90 minutes, actually, while the growth of the industry concurrent with his career is illustrated vividly.

It's the latest 30 for 30 on HBO that premiered Tuesday night, following the ESPN installment "Nature Boy" that chronicled the life of Ric Flair. My minimal knowledge of Flair caused me to be shamed sufficiently into agreeing to watch that one, and I was glad I did, if only now to be able to contrast it with a story about his notably acromegalic colleague.

I know Andre Roussimoff as the affable Fezzik from the classic move "The Princess Bride" and was pleased to see that addressed in the documentary via interviews with director Rob Reiner as well as stars Cary Elwes, Robin Wright and Billy Crystal. Not that there ended up being much new information for those of us who had already tried to learn as much as was available about an old favorite, but there was at least an acknowledgement of the significance of his role exposing him to an audience beyond his day job.

So I wasn't able to share memories of his epic matches or noted moments in the ring, nor was I transported nostalgically to my youth as Hulk Hogan and others remembered him, considering that my awareness even of Hogan was from an old Sports Illustrated cover and his own cinematic turn as Thunderlips in "Rocky III."

But Andre's career was contemporaneous with the explosion of the sport in America as it moved from a loose confederation of independent and competing regional programs into a top-down model pioneered by a driven visionary in Vince McMahon. That stuff was fascinating, using dynamic graphics and plenty of grainy videotape to depict the consolidation of the sport and how cable television was used to catalyze its success.

The stories about Andre as a dedicated and generous performer shed new light for me as well, on how the art of the acting meets the athleticism in the welcoming and supportive style of "Yes, and..." as taught in long-form improv comedy. I knew that pro wrestling was fake and scripted but became newly aware of the individual nuances and compromises made (or not) once the characters hit the mat.

The tales of Andre's drinking and chronically poor and declining health that led to his death at 46 felt somewhat trite and warmed over, delivered as if part of a classic third act of MTV's "Behind the Music" describing the decline of a band after heady times. It again was nothing new.

But where the filmmakers of "Nature Boy" had the benefit of a living Flair to be part of a movie that really told a revealing and deeply personal story of a man who became the larger-than-life figure he portrayed for more worse effect than better, "Andre the Giant" has only the thoughts of others with which to work. The result is a picture at arm's length, which in this case is that of a giant.

It's well worth your time, however, recommended as much or more for a curious fan coming to it as a wrestling outsider. At least for this viewer, it allowed more to come through that otherwise could.

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s “Bernstein and McKnight Show” in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​