André the Giant Documentary Review

André the Giant Documentary Review

André the Giant, the HBO documentary directed by Jason Hehir impacts its viewers with the same power that André used in the ring.

Covering the life of one of wrestling’s most famous superstars, Hehir’s film truly encapsulated the person that was André Roussimoff. While many similar pieces have acted as fluff, only showing the positive side of their subjects, this one feels more genuine. This film shows André as a real person with flaws and pain while also showing the man’s joy.

It was fascinating to see footage of André as a younger man. While he was already extraordinarily tall, he was incredibly thin. Reportedly weighing 150-200 lbs less than he did in the peak of his career when he was billed as between 450-500 lbs. André would use a different wrestling style that most fans would not associate with the André the Giant that they were used to.

The film touched on the important part of wrestling history that allowed André and many people like him to make their money, which was how they navigated the territory system. As the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ was an attraction, he would make more money moving from territory to territory every month and remaining fresh and exciting in the eyes of his audience. The practice still holds a great amount of importance as wrestlers these days are unable to do the same thing due to the overexposure of cable television and the internet.

Hulk Hogan played a large role in the film as André’s friend and greatest rival and provided the majority of the insight into Roussimoff’s time in the WWF. He discussed how if the ‘Giant’ liked you, you would be alright, but if he didn’t you would know it when you got in the ring with him. Hogan gave examples of André beating Randy Savage and The Iron Sheik senseless because of his dislike for them while Vince McMahon discussed how André was protective of his gimmick as ‘The Giant’ and beat up Big John Studd for stepping over the top rope. This segment was quite amusing as it followed a portion of the film where many people talked about how kind and gentle the big man was.

A recurring theme of the film was the stories of André’s drinking ability. Everyone who was around him for an extended period of time had stories about him including Ric Flair who claimed to have been present when André drank 106 beers.

Another man who was a key figure in the film was former WWE referee Tim White. White was André’s “handler” and best friend and shared stories about Roussimoff that ranged from drinking stories to locker room altercations to how much pain he was in by the end of his life.

Roughly halfway through the documentary, the tone of the film shifted to a more somber one when the subject turned to the life that André had to live away from the ring. Travel was very uncomfortable for him, the way people treated him in public hurt his feelings, and he was never able to be free from people unless he was on his ranch in North Carolina. It was difficult to hear those close to him recall the pain he was in as his body did become a physical and social burden for him to bear.

A very charming segment of the piece was the coverage of the classic film, The Princess Bride. As one of the most beloved movies of the last 35 years, to see the cast and director of the film talk about the experience of working with André on set was a delight. The film’s director, Rob Reiner, told a story of having to lower a drunken André onto a horse with wires because he was too heavy to actually ride the animal among other stories from actors Billy Crystal, Cary Elwes, and Robin Wright.

Elwes explained that while many people would ask him about drinking with André, they wouldn’t understand that he drank because he was in pain. Wright recalled the scene where her character would jump from a window and be caught by André’s character Fezzik. In the scene, she said that she had to be suspended by wires so there was no weight being carried by Roussimoff, as his back and knees were in such poor shape.

The climax of the story for any wrestling fan is André’s match with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III. It was eye-opening to hear from Vince McMahon just how bad a shape André was in prior to the proposal of his main event match with Hogan. McMahon recalled Roussimoff being ready to die before being given a new lease on life with the chance to remain in the wrestling business as a top attraction.

Hogan showed the legal pad that he had choreographed the entire match beforehand with the finish left ambiguous. McMahon told the story that he and André ribbed Hogan by not telling him the finish until they were in the ring. André made Hogan believe that he was not going to work with him until they got to the ring and the ‘Giant’ began doing the match move-for-move like Hogan had laid out beforehand.

It was hilarious to see this side of the business exposed to the level of showing the manuscript for a match when 30 years ago that would have been unspeakable to even consider.

As the film approached its close, it was heartbreaking to watch. As pictures were shown of André during his final days it was clear that the man was in too much pain. It was visible on his face that his life was ending.

As the film discussed André the Giant’s death in 1993, it was particularly sad to see the interviews from Vince McMahon and Tim White. McMahon talked about how his refusal to allow André to keep wrestling damaged their relationship at the end but that his death was especially difficult to cope with as André was special. White was the most emotional of those interviewed. He said that he wished he could have been with his friend during his last days so that he would not have had to die alone while choking back tears.

André the Giant was a wonderful documentary showcasing the man and the giant. It was lighthearted and funny while also being heartbreaking and powerful in a way few wrestling documentaries have been. Jason Hehir has put together a celebration of the life of André the Giant that anyone would enjoy watching, wrestling fan or not.


Did you see the André the Giant documentary? Let us know what you thought of it in the comments below or on Twitter here.

6 years ago by Tempest


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