‘Beyond the Mat’ Review

By Natali Cavanavh

     Beyond the Mat is a coming of age movie about Aaron, an adopted Vietnamese boy, and his best friend, Bo, whose friendship is put to the test when they both compete for the same spot on their high school varsity wrestling team.  Aaron wants the spot for a chance to get a full ride scholarship; Bo wants the spot to fight one last time against the rival that unfairly cost him the previous year’s state championship.  Bo and Aaron must learn what true sacrifice means and how far they are willing to go, both on and off the mat, to get what they crave the most.

     At first, I was excited to see what direction this movie would take.  Despite the generic sounding plotline, I had hoped that Beyond the Mat would not be lumped into the overwhelming pile of standard sports movies. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

First, there was the tired central plotline.  I knew how this movie was going to begin and exactly how it was going to end.  I knew that Bo and Aaron were going to have a falling out and that something would happen to make Aaron quit the team.  I knew that Aaron would learn the meaning of friendship and brotherhood through Bo and would go on to fight and win the state championship.  While I will admit there were some elements to the story that took me by surprise, I didn’t feel moved or empowered by the end of the movie; I felt bored because I had seen the same movie plenty of times before but with other various sports.

     Next, the side story of Aaron’s adoption was poorly developed and made the flow of the movie choppy.  Aaron’s journey towards understanding his heritage and adoption was intriguing and entertaining, but it seemed as if this part of the story was completely dropped in the middle of the film and had played no significant part in Aaron’s development.  This is what could have made Beyond the Mat different from other sports movies, but because of its lack of resolution, it seemed too random and out of place.

Then there were the cliché antagonists.  By the final scene, I really thought I was watching The Karate Kid. From the cruel, winning-obsessed coach who convinces the ruthless previous state champion that he is worthless unless he wins again to the final match where the rival is pressured into breaking the protagonist’s ankle.  There was nothing unique or special about these characters, and by making them so one-dimensional and flat, the story lost value.  It would have been nice to see antagonists with layers and moral conflicts instead of default antagonists that apparently are incapable of being anything other than bloodthirsty and power-hungry animals.

The only elements that saved this movie from getting one star were the decent cinematography and stunning music.  The music was heart swelling and matched the different moods of the film perfectly, and the unsaturated tone and gorgeous lighting made the film more realistic, creating a closer connection to Aaron and Bo’s world to the audience’s world.  Nevertheless, these elements weren’t enough to keep me satisfied with Beyond the Mat overall.

Beyond the Mat is an inspiration story about friendship, teamwork, and determination, but it is a story that has been told a thousand times before.  While it is an uplifting and stirring film, it failed to go beyond what sports movies of the past have already done.  Wrestling fans may enjoy this film, but I was personally less than impressed and would recommend others to skip over this one.

Verdict: Okay, Beyond the Mat is just another sports movie that happened to have been shot better than said sports movies.

Positives: Wonderful cinematography, great music.
Negatives: Unoriginal plot line, flow of the story was choppy overall, stereotypical antagonists.