GREAT FALLS - On the surface, the new movie The Last Champion feels like it could be set in Great Falls.
An Olympic wrestler from a small town? Check. A disgraced former athlete seeking redemption? Check.
“It's a story mainly about redemption and hope and inspiration,” said co-writer and producer Ivy Withrow. “It's a story about a man who was an Olympic champion and he had a moment in his life where he really fell from grace. And the movie is about his journey to kind of pull himself out of that really dark place that he was.”
The main character, John Wright, might as well be an amalgamation of some of the most well-known athletes in Electric City history. But the connections to Great Falls go much deeper than just familiar plot lines.
Start with the cast. Great Falls High School alumnus Olivia Longin makes her screen debut in a speaking role.
“I was just a student at the University of Idaho studying theater, film and television, and, through the department, I was hired to be a stand-in for post-production for this film,” Longin said. “And so I showed up, I helped them. And I just kind of hit it off with the crew, and the director actually ended up writing me into the script and gave me a character role and gave me a line, which was pretty cool.”
Withrow and her father Glenn, the movie's director, knew immediately that Longin was a natural talent and were more than happy to include her in the cast.
“She's an amazing talent. She's a gem of a human and she's become one of my best friends,” Withrow said. "And I adore her. This is just the start of our professional working relationship, but she's fantastic.”
Longin's role extended past the front of the camera as well. The film was shot primarily in the Pacific Northwest and, during post-production, the producers realized they needed more exterior shots of a high school. Longin knew just the place.
“And so I chimed in and told them my hometown has a high school, Great Falls High, it's a historical landmark,” Longin said. “I sent them pictures and they sent out a film crew and they filmed a shot of it. And it's actually in the film, which is pretty cool.”
And those aren’t the only Montana connections. The film’s star, Cole Hauser, currently plays Rip Wheeler on the hit series Yellowstone.
“It was just so cool to watch somebody who's been in acting for so long, just be in their realm,” Longin said “He’s a master of his craft. It was just so cool to get to witness that.”
In the middle of a pandemic with the holidays approaching, both the cast and filmmakers agree there’s no better time for a feel-good story.
"I think that this is a beautiful film about forgiveness and family and second chances,” Longin said. “Especially around Christmas time and especially with the world right now, I think we could all use a feel-good story. And this is definitely one that I think people will really, really enjoy.”
The Last Champion will stream on Amazon and Google Play starting Dec. 8 and is currently available for pre-order on iTunes.
Here is the film’s synopsis:
John Wright was a hometown hero – the powerful star of his high school wrestling team and a promising Olympian. He could have had it all … but one bad decision destroyed his dreams and forced him to leave under a cloud of scandal that has haunted him ever since.
Twenty years later, John returns to his small town after his mother’s death, hoping to save his family home from foreclosure. His icy reception proves that his former friends and neighbors still haven’t forgiven him for letting them down. Unexpectedly, John gets the opportunity to turn everything around – by coaching his high school’s wrestling team. There he meets Michael, a talented underdog with a troubled homelife who faces a vicious opponent out to destroy him both on and off the mat. Can John become the leader the team and Michael needs, or will he lose himself to the dark demons of his past?
The Last Champion is an inspirational family sports drama that will have you believing in second chances. Beautifully photographed in the Pacific Northwest, it’s a story about faith, loss and redemption starring Cole Hauser (Yellowstone), Hallie Todd (Lizzie McGuire), Randall Batinkoff (X-Men: First Class) and Peter Onorati (This is Us). The film is directed, produced and co-written by actor Glenn Withrow (The Outsiders).