Title: The Iron Claw
Director: Sean Durkin
Cast: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James, Kevin Anton
Where: In Theatres near you
Rating: 3 stars
Wrestling forms, the backdrop of this sports film, which occasionally borrows tropes from this well-worn genre. Here, instead of a competitive, straightforward sports film, the narrative is more of a drama about brotherhood, the weight of irrational expectations, and the noxious influence of an autocratic father.
Set during the late 1970s and early ‘80s in Texas, the film is a tough, heart-breaking story loosely based on the life of the American wrestling dynasty - The Von Erichs – Parents Fritz aka Jack and Dorris (Holt McCallany & Maura Tierney), and their five sons; Jake, Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simmons). It tells us what happens when the myth of “being great” runs into the reality of a dysfunctional family.
The film begins with black and white frames circa the 1960s with Jack in the wrestling ring aggressively displaying his signature move, the Iron Claw, a vice grip that he applies to demolish his opponent, leaving him in a pulpy mess. A few moments later, in the parking lot, he assures his wife that renting a new Cadillac despite being tight on funds is necessary for his stardom. This only shows us the type of person he is.
Thereafter, the tragicomic melodrama unravels from Kevin, Fritz’s oldest surviving son’s point of view. At the very onset, he tells us, “Ever since I was a child, people said my family was cursed. We never talked about it. We brothers never believed it, but bad things kept happening. Mum tried to protect us with God, and Dad tried to protect us with wrestling…”
As the story progresses, the narrative persuasively details the brother’s relationships with one another, the warm and sweet intimacy, their father’s abusive treatment, and their cycles of trauma. It also touches upon themes of toxic masculinity, American enterprise, and exploitation.
What makes the film shine is the well-etched characters. Unfortunately, none of them, except for Kevin and, to some extent, Kerry, have clear arcs and tidy endings.
On the performance front, no one gets more noticed than Zac Efron. He has bulked his physique to suit his role, and- he shines as the man who takes the onus of being the oldest despite grappling with his inner demons.
The film boasts decent production and aesthetic values. While some transitions and the ‘Afterlife’ scene are jarring, the era in which the events occur is well-captured with fashionable hot pants to crop tops and hairstyles. Each shot feels like a period frame. The film does not only transport you on its visuals alone. The wonderfully designed rock soundtrack layers in emotional fervour, as events swirl into a horrific frenzy.
Overall- the film is a familiar and relatable tale of emotional repression, misplaced ambition, struggle, and fate.