American Wrestler: The Wizard

American Wrestler: The Wizard

Jack Brink

Rating: PG-13

Score: 7 out of 10

While American Wrestler: The Wizard doesn’t hit theaters until 2017, the Bel Air High School Wrestling team and I, along with other teams, were treated to a special advanced screening of the film at the historic Senator Theater, where we also got to meet the actor who portrayed the main character Ali, George Kosturos. Everyone got to take pictures with him and help promote the movie. Overall, it was a pretty great night.

The film, which tells the story of Ali, an immigrant from Iran who joins his school’s wrestling team to earn respect amongst his peers and accomplish something in the land of opportunity. Kosturos does a stellar job realistically portraying the issues Ali faces, those being the treatment of Iranian immigrants in the U.S. during the time of the Gulf War, and that of the life of a bullied high school teenager. The film is also able to emphasize the struggles Ali is going through in a completely believable way that doesn’t feel forced or clichéd.

The display of Iranian discrimination, in particular, was very strong, and really takes this movie up to the level above just being an average sports flick. There is a strong political message in there, showing that just because someone is a certain nationality, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, as Ali is a great, hardworking kid, regardless of what anyone thinks. The discrimination against him really adds another level of sympathy to his character, which makes us root for him even more, which is always beneficial to the quality of a sports movie.

While its story may seem simple or predictable, it’s elevated by its incredibly rich cast of characters and their rewarding story arcs. The film’s characters all have traits or backstories that raise them up to much more than just props in Ali’s success story, and their stories are very engrossing as well. Coach Plyler (William Fichtner) is haunted by his past in the Vietnam War, but he’s able to overcome his anger and fear to help Ali get through the struggles that he must face. Kristi Larsen (Lia Marie Johnson) works to overcome peer pressure and worry of gossip to pursue a friendship with Ali. Ali’s uncle (Ali Afshar, who the movie is based on) overcomes his hatred of white people to help coach the wrestling team, while the wrestling team is able to overcome their racism toward Iranian people to listen to him. It’s so easy to invest in every single one of these characters and like them, which makes the film that much more enjoyable.

If I had one criticism, it’s that the film unfortunately turns into an assorted mess of sports film clichés in the last twenty minutes, with main villain Rowan Knox suddenly becoming a hardcore racist, a shocking plot twist that changes everything that had literally come out of nowhere, and the film decides to add another element that I won’t spoil that really makes the final tournament feel like a must-win situation for Ali (which they didn’t have to do).

As a wrestler, myself, I’m obviously going to enjoy this movie, and it’s easily the best wrestling movie I’ve ever seen (sorry, Vision Quest). It features thrilling, heart-pounding wrestling scenes, ones that are very realistic, I might add (up until the climax, where everything begins to take too much of a dramatic feel). Its decent wrestling story is brought up a ton with its dense social and political commentary, which is a great thing.

While the film may feel like its petering out near the end, it’s an extremely solid sports film that is hugely improved by its wonderful selection of characters and deeper meaning. A must-watch for wrestling fans, and a movie you will enjoy very much even if you aren’t a wrestling fan.