Review: Trials to Triumph: The Documentary

Directed by Greg Romano and written by Dan Ratner, follows the meteoric career of Freddie Stevenson, from his fall and struggle to revival, with the redemption stories of Maurice Benard, former pro-soccer player Delvin Breaux, motivational speaker Tony Gaskins and others.

Freddie Stevenson’s story explores how the world of football in the US can be a blessing and a curse, how it can give you the drive you need but also chew you up and spit you out. Stevenson’s story is compelling, growing up with his father in jail for key moments of his life and finding football as a passion and a way to keep him away from drugs and crime. Along with his girlfriend and parents, they’ve all experienced a huge sadness, repeated grief, success and failure, there’s a lot to explore. It’s especially interesting to discuss how punishing the NFL draft and business can be, with young men working so hard and so long for something that can be over within a few hours.

There’s genuinely plenty of story to tell and more ways that the system failed Stevenson could have been explored, it’s a shame that the film takes so many tangents. It’s on the fence between telling Stevenson’s story and telling a larger story of struggling to succeed and to make the film work, it needed to commit to one or the other. When stories like that of Maurice Benard come into play, they feel like distractions rather than adding to the story. Especially when they also add in extremely unnecessary psychoanalysis which is much too simple to require explanation. The other stories that involve football and reflect Stevenson’s troubled upbringing and temptation into selling drugs all make sense in the larger picture but the rest sadly don’t.

It also struggles with the progression and timing of how it explores these stories, there’s a lot of back and forth, and they each lack a proper introduction. While it wouldn’t necessarily need to follow these stories from start to finish to make them work, creating a better flow would have made it more engaging. Constantly bouncing around between times and different people works against itself. The simple talking heads style, interlaced with old footage of Stevenson’s football days works well, it doesn’t need any glamour or flash. Reflecting the down to earth nature of the story was the right choice, it just needed to strengthen the focus to do its story justice.

Trials to Triumph: The Documentary had a great idea to use the ups and downs of Freddie Stevenson’s life to show how patience and strength will see you through obstacles, but it simply got too distracted along the way. It’s understandable why the filmmakers wanted to use other examples of struggle to show that it’s universal but they end up taking away rather than adding to the film. There’s plenty of captivating stories to tell within its offering but the way that they’re packaged together isn’t effective enough to do them justice.

Verdict: ✯✯✯ | 6/10

Available on Digital in the US from May 2

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