Allegedly inspired by a true story, Brett Leonard’s Triumph follows Mike (Breaking Bad’s RJ Mitte), a high school senior with cerebral palsy who’s determined to join the wrestling team. It’s the last chance he’ll ever have at accomplishing his wrestling dreams before he graduates, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make them come true. There’s no doubt that the filmmakers’ hearts are in the right place to tell an inspirational tale of overcoming adversity. However, they do so in a manner that takes the melodrama to overbearing levels of sappiness insofar as it’s difficult to view Mike’s journey with any seriousness.
The film opens as a young Mike suffers a humiliating defeat at one of his first matches. It’s a rather clichéd introduction as underdog movies go, but it nevertheless gives viewers an instant snapshot of the physical and mental obstacles the hero must overcome. Cutting to the protagonist several years later, training with unfettered fire and intensity, it’s evident that he’s not going to let anything get in his way. Unfortunately for viewers, first-time screenwriter Michael D Coffey doesn’t appear to consider the message clear enough. The overwhelming majority of scenes that follow consist of Mike being told that he shouldn’t do something because of his disability, for him to respond in defiance. This pattern gets old quick and subsequently deprives the character of much else in terms of development.
It’s to Mitte’s credit that his natural charisma and charm prohibit his character from becoming unlikeable. It’s evident through the actor’s performance that this project means a lot to him. Nowhere is this clearer than in a rousing monologue that he delivers more to viewers than the other cast members. Because of Mitte’s grit, it’s impossible not to become swept up in Mike’s journey, even when the melodrama does its best to break the emersion – which it does, a lot. Every dramatic device (spanning slow-motion, training montages and inspirational music) is taken to levels so hyperbolic that result falls firmly into the realms of unintentional comedy.
Leonard’s latest flick is far from being the triumphant underdog story it sets out to be. However, Mitte’s dedicated performance is the victory Triumph needed for viewers to make it to the end.
Triumph is released nationwide on 28th June 2021.
Watch the trailer for Triumph here: