Hurts Like Hell doesn’t flinch in its portrayal of the ugly side of an already brutal sport, however, what makes it most interesting is its comfort with the moral ambiguities associated with the ugliness.
Netflix docuseries Hurts Like Hell was released on the streaming service on July 13, 2022.
Lance Armstrong tells us that despite having admitted to doping for most of his professional cycling career he doesn’t consider himself a cheat. Why? Because he was in a sport where everyone cheats, therefore he didn’t really gain any advantage; by his logic, the playing field was in fact level. This is, at best, a morally corrupt argument, but it does make a certain kind of sense if you think about it. Hurts Like Hell, streaming now on Netflix, takes that logic one step further and asks its audience, what if it’s not just your competitors that are corrupt, but everyone in the sport including doctors, referees, bookies, and trainers. Who, in that case, is cheat-ed, if everyone is cheat-ing?
The sport in focus is Muay Thai boxing, a sport where the rules are reasonably simple but everything around it is complex. Over the course of 4 episodes, we are ushered into a world of corruption and violence; where everyone’s motives are questionable and no one is reliable. Gambling is simultaneously propping up the sport, and killing it. The financial stakes are high but the human stakes are even higher.
In a crowded marketplace of sporting dramas, where reliable tropes are revisited and heroic stories are retold. It is refreshing to get an insight into the fringes of the darker sides of a sport whose credibility will remain in question until it can overcome its reliance on gambling.
Hurts Like Hell cuts between dramatic storytelling, featuring actors to recreate events (it is inspired by real events) and talking heads from real people to provide context and commentary. At first, I found the constant interjections from the talking heads frustrating, initially making it hard for the show to get into a rhythm, a bit like having an annoying friend next to you constantly pausing the show to explain what is going on when you have already figured it out. However, as the narrative unspooled and became more complex, it became useful to have the insight of those that have spent time in and around the sport.
With all of this darkness and violence in the foreground, you might ask yourself, why is anyone attracted to this world? Hurts Like Hell answers this question pretty well too. Fundamentally landing on two compelling reasons; it’s a route out of poverty for those gifted and hard-working enough, and many honest people simply love the sport, which makes it worth protecting.
The framing, lighting, and camera work illustrate the murky nature of the world that we are looking at, but can at times also make it unnecessarily hard to follow some of the fight sequences. The actors cast in the roles of the boxers move well and the physicality of this brutal sport is demonstrated with well-thought-through choreography. The overall effect is an engrossing watch, with a richness and a depth that surprised me. Hurts Like Hell caught me off guard and has stayed with me since watching it.
What do you think of the Netflix docuseries Hurts Like Hell? Comment below.