By Josh Nason, WrestlingObserver.com
I was really looking forward to checking out ‘The Sheik’ after hearing the Iron Sheik on a recent Jim Ross podcast and once it hit Netflix, I was all in. But after watching the 95 minute doc, I think the buzz around it should have been a bit humbled.
To no surprise, the film centers around the life and times of Khosrow Vaziri, later to be known as The Iron Sheik. We are taken through his life in Iran, his wrestling background and bodyguard work, why he came to the United States, how he got into wrestling, his rise and fall in the WWF, and his rise and fall in life.
A big plus is the pictures we see that accompany much of the story help us see Vaziri as a normal human being through every stage of his life, especially those early Iran years. For the most part, the doc humanizes the cartoon character that we all know as the Sheik, bolstered by the story of him getting married on the same day he wrestled for the AWA. Perhaps it’s because Verne Gagne recently passed away but the pictures of him at the wedding take on a little more meaning now. The story of his daughter being killed is also a tough watch and is presented with grace.
Sadly, there is no WWF footage in the doc but the filmmakers (also his management team) did a good job at getting other footage of Sheik wrestling and just told the WWF story as that ran. There are a few still shots from his WWF title loss to Hulk Hogan on January 1984, so it’s not all foreign.
We also get a lot of footage of Sheik’s post-career decline, including him buying drugs and his subsequent falling out with his family as a result of his addictions. The saviors of his life were Page and Jian Magen, Iranian-Canadian twins whose father was close friends with the Sheik. As the story goes, they reacquainted with him and essentially took him on as a reclamation project.
Sheik got off the drugs and the twins now manage his career and in the film’s final act, we are shown how much of a social media and pop culture phenomenon he’s become and how he is earning his family’s love back. Success and the love of his family for the Sheik has come full circle.
My major issues were the pacing and the production values. There’s somewhat of a narrative and storyline, but major twists happen suddenly. After Sheik’s wife had enough, we go to a few years (I think?) later where Sheik has an apartment and is now completely drug free. We never see the process it took to get there or exactly what happened which is kinda weird. Even a few title cards explaining what happened between those periods would have been great.
I also don’t believe we are ever told when and why he started doing drugs. Was there a moment he started smoking crack that he wishes never happened? There’s too much of a feeling of “How did we get to this place” throughout the doc. There’s also no mention of his reconciliation with WWE that saw him return in the 90s and in subsequent years — odd because time is spent discussing his abrupt exit.
On the production value side, “The Sheik” felt like a project from two inexperienced filmmakers making a documentary. There were some misspellings and inconsistencies in the subtitles, white subtitles over a white background, and an overuse of bad background music that took away from key moments moments. The best documentaries bring you into a moment and keep you there. “The Sheik” had too many spots where you could float in and out whenever you pleased.
As a wrestling fan, there’s plenty to enjoy in “The Sheik” and lots of major stars telling the tale (huge score by getting Dwayne Johnson for an extended interview), but I think it would have been best served to have a group independent of the Magen twins tell the story.
Watch “The Sheik”, but don’t expect to be blown away.