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Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998)

TV Movie  -   -  Documentary | Biography | Sport  -  20 December 1998 (USA)
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Documentary focusing on the career of pro wrestler Bret Hart & his controversial exit from the WWF.



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Title: Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (TV Movie 1998)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Bret Hart ...
Brian Pillman ...
Blade Hart ...
Himself (Bret's Son)
Julie Hart ...
Stu Hart ...
Helen Hart ...
Diana Hart ...
Keith Hart ...
Tammy Sytch ...
Jim Neidhart ...
Georgia Hart ...
Curt Hennig ...
Himself (archive footage)
Vince McMahon ...


The life and career of Bret Hart is recounted from his youth, through the start of his career, his years in the WWF, up to the present day. Bret discusses the high and lows of his career and shows the world of professional wrestling from a wrestler's point of view. Written by A. Stooge

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The story of a man who believes in heroes, in a world where the anti-hero is king. See more »

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

20 December 1998 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Screwed on film
18 March 2007 | by ( – See all my reviews

There's quite an amusing bit in Wrestling With Shadows where a man on a TV panel show earnestly likens Bret Hart to Hamlet – he says both are good men stuck in immoral worlds. Only in Canada (and possibly Mexico) could such a discussion be televised and it not be part of a sketch show. After all, as Bret himself points out, for a brief time he was the most famous Canadian in the world.

But although I find it amazing that a programme could use wrestling as a means in which to discuss morals, and although I'm even more amazed that such a show could find its way on the airways, the documentary that features it is superb. Here you have a film that, like the excellent Beyond the Mat, lifts the veil on wrestling and shows the world how the whole crazy enterprise works. It most certainly isn't Shakespeare (and Bret Hart isn't Hamlet), but the story that unfolds is riveting.

As in Beyond the Mat, one of the main themes in this film is the way wrestling blurs lines that are drawn between the real and the unreal. Yes we all know the matches are predetermined and that punches are pulled, but that's beside the point. The reality is in the reactions generated by fans. The reality is the sacrifices performers have to make to succeed in the business – many forsake normal family lives. The reality is in the cruelty of the profession – no pensions and no job security. So although the matches are planned in advance, there are careers and lives on the line.

What the film captures wonderfully is Hart's internal conflict. He wants to be a hero, but people are starting to boo him, and he wants to stay loyal to Vince McMahon (who's almost like a second father), but he has a big money offer from WCW. There are lots of things going on, almost all of them out of his control. And while that may seem crazy, wrestling being almost entirely about control and manipulation of people's emotions, it further illustrates how complicated the business is – while he's worshipped like a god in Canada and across the world (the reaction in India is hardly phoney), he's vilified in America as bland and unfashionable; people want something different.

And that's probably Bret Hart's problem. As great an athlete as he was, he found it hard to adapt to the new attitude that wrestling acquired in the late 90s. He was too emotionally invested in being a hero. If anything, he cared too much about the fans. He probably would have adapted better if he had less scruples. But that's what also makes Hart a wonderful subject for this documentary. He never sells out and he never breaks his word – even in such a scuzzy business as wrestling, he maintains his dignity. He's also at odds with his new position within the company as the number one heel – he doesn't like insulting the fans. But such is Hart's professionalism that he does and does it exceedingly well. Indeed, the whole period of wrestling that the film documents was the most exciting I can remember. Wrestling since has been a pale shadow of what it was back then.

Despite my opinion, though, Hart doesn't like the new direction and openly criticises it. And this is probably what leads to his downfall. His determination to be honest at all times alienates Vince McMahon and may well have inspired the infamous Montreal screw job.

And the section of the film that deals with the events in Montreal make for fascinating viewing. First of all you have the way Bret Hart's wife emotionally says goodbye to what she thinks are her friends. Then you have Blade (Bret's son) sulking in the corner because he'll never see a lot of these people again. And after that you have Bret telling his wife that Earl Hebner, the referee, is straight (he swore on his kids that nothing would happen). It all adds up to betrayal that is like having your family stab you in the back – being the sort of person he is, you can more than understand why Hart is so devastated. However, you can also kind of see McMahon's point of view. He was fighting a bitter fight with WCW and one of his main (expensive) stars had been openly criticising his direction; McMahon wanted to do the best he could to taint the goods Ted Turner had paid handsomely for. But even though from a cold, objective business point of view, I can understand why Vince did it, he does fully deserve the punch in the face that Hart deals out to him. The whole situation could and should have been handled better.

Aside from this, you also have a film about a man and his relationship with his father, and the one here is unique to say the least. One of the funniest sections in the film is when the Hart's recount the way Stu Hart would 'stretch out' aspiring wrestlers. In one instance you can even hear a kid screaming his head off as Stu slaps him, saying 'Have some discipline'. It's here that you understand how and why Bret became the man he is. He was afraid of his father but respected him, too. And because of the strict sense of right and wrong that was fostered in him, he found it hard to accept the shades of grey that crept into wrestling.

But while, in a sense, this moral rigidity hampers Bret's career, it also protects him. Many wrestlers, when they retire, go off the rails, but with Bret (despite everything that's happened since the film) you feel he'll be okay. At least, you hope that will be the case.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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