A new HBO Sports documentary chronicling the life of Andre the Giant proves his legacy is as big as he was.
On Tuesday, days after WWE’s annual extravaganza WrestleMania, HBO aired Andre the Giant, a Bill Simmons-produced documentary that is attracting positive reviews from online critics, who call the film “tremendously entertaining” and “powerful.”
Directed by Jason Hehir, Andre the Giant explores the life of André René Roussimoff, the French wrestler and actor noted for his extraordinary stature — he stood 7-foot-4 — a symptom of a rare growth disorder formally known as gigantism. Roussimoff began wrestling as “Andre the Giant” at the age of 17, in 1963. Ten years later, he appeared in the World Wide Wrestling Federation (later World Wrestling Federation, or WWF), where he became an attraction. He retired in 1992, and died less than a year later in 1993.
He also appeared in the ‘80s classic movie The Princess Bride, starring Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, and Billy Crystal, all of whom appear in the film via interviews.
In The Hollywood Reporter, Daniel Fienberg praises the film for being “engaging, if not revealing,” while criticizing the involvement of WWE, a company notorious for safeguarding its image where possible.
“There’s a doc to be made on how an ailing Andre was unable to leave the spotlight, unwilling to get treatment for symptoms of his acromegaly, and kept being trotted out as a figure even when he could no longer be an entertainer,” Fienberg writes. “Such a doc would posit Andre as an exploited figure. Instead, this version gives us an injury-hobbled Giant, sensing perhaps his impending mortality, sacrificing himself … for the rising wrestling messiah Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III — at which point the story ceases to feel like it’s even his anymore.” He also criticizes the exclusion of street artist Shepard Fairey, who used Andre’s likeness in his popular 21st century designs.
“None of my skepticism about the documentary’s failure to cut quite deep enough or to get enough distance from its subject is close to damning. Andre the Giant was so captivating a figure, and Andre the Giant captures so much of how and why he was impossible to look away from. It’s just that the unexpected pathos and humanity that he often brought into the ring leaves me also craving more of a man who, it could turn out, was just a myth wrapped in a bigger myth.”
For The A.V. Club, Noel Murray grades the documentary a B+, noting that it takes a very light approach to a complicated subject. “This is not a somber film, by any means, or a cautionary tale,” Murray writes, “It’s primarily a celebration of a one-of-a-kind talent, intended to put him back into his proper context.”
Murray, like Fienberg, also criticizes the film for spending a lot of time on Hulk Hogan. “Hogan is so omnipresent that for a good 10 minutes of this 85-minute film, it essentially becomes a doc about the Hulkster,” he writes. But Murray does note the film successfully lands its emotional notes:
“[P]erhaps the most moving image in the entire picture comes toward the end, when Roussimoff’s younger brother shows the camera the gigantic chair their mother made for her special son.”
Josh Sorokach of Decider is just a scosh more critical, describing the movie as an attempt “to make sense of the complicated mythology of wrestling’s most inscrutable figure.”
“Wrestling is at its most captivating when fans believe they’re witnessing genuine moments amidst the scripted chaos,” Sorokach writes. “The same can be said for HBO’s Andre the Giant.”
“The [pro wrestling] industry as a whole is a cocoon of mystery, and documentaries about pro-wrestling that are produced by the WWE are obviously going to maintain a certain mystique. The idea of Andre as an unknowable deity is more lucrative than the true story of the man behind the curtain. But how can you truly know someone when the line between fiction and reality is indelibly blurred? You can’t, not in a truly meaningful way, and that’s always been part of the inherent allure of Andre the Giant.”
Though not definitive, it is telling that an engaging documentary can explore a man as enigmatic as Andre the Giant and still be unable to capture his whole story. It’s proof positive to just how big Andre was for this world.
Andre the Giant is streaming now on HBO Go.