Sports movies are sure-fire winners given the scope for drama, tears and the joy of a hard-fought triumph at the end. We all love an underdog, and the grand tradition of a sports film focuses on the realisation of a dream overcoming all sorts of obstacles.
The Iron Claw
Director: Sean Durkin
Starring: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James
Storyline: The true story of the legendary Von Erich wrestling family
Duration: 132 minutes
Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw, however, which focuses on the Von Erich family and features three generations of wrestlers, is quite a crushing downer. There is no triumphant ride into the sunset for Kevin (Zac Efron), the only surviving son of the five Von Erich boys. There is, however, a kind of peace that Kevin achieves, and we, the bruised and battered audience, are happy for him.
The movie starts with the patriarch Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) telling his sons, Kevin and Jack Jr, that the only way to take on the world is by being stronger and better than everyone else. There is mention of the Von Erich curse which Fritz wishes to defeat with strength, and his wife Doris (Maura Tierney) with religion.
The film moves ahead to 1979 where Kevin and his brothers, David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike, (Stanley Simons) are sitting to breakfast. Fritz, who has built up the World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), and ever the believer in tough love, tells Mike to bulk up. Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), another of the Von Erich boys, is off training for the Olympics, while Kevin has just won the Texas NWA Heavyweight Champion, and David shows promise.
Mike, however, is interested in music, and Kevin feels his father is pushing his brother too hard. Kevin meets Pam (Lily James) after a match and a sweet romance grows between the two.
As tragedy after tragedy strikes the Von Erich family, you are left wondering if it is the curse brought on by changing the family name from Adkisson to Von Erich, or thanks to the toxic masculinity as preached and propounded by Fritz. There is also a fatigue that sets in with each sling and arrow from outraged fortune. Durkin, a fan of professional wrestling and fascinated by the Von Erich family, chose not to include the story of the youngest son Chris, who died by suicide, as he said in an interview, “it was one more tragedy that the film couldn’t really withstand,” and we are thankful for that.
Where the film works is in the brutally choreographed fights and the exceptional cast. Efron is the still centre, the trembling rock in the midst of all the grief, yearning and loss, while White uses his expressive eyes and pauses to great effect. The Iron Claw is difficult viewing for multiple reasons while also being thrilling and affirmative in as many ways.
The Iron Claw is currently running in theatres