For all its popularity around the world, wrestling has always had a darker side.
Steroids, concussions, poor working conditions and drug problems have riddled the sport since the 1950s and, up until recently, these topics have been seen as taboo.
Director Sean Durkin’s new film The Iron Claw takes viewers behind the curtain to demonstrate just how insane the world of wrestling (particularly in the 70s and 80s) really was through the viewpoint of the sport’s most cursed family, the Von Erichs.
It tells the true story of Jack ‘Fritz’ Von Erich (Holt McCallany) and his decades-long pursuit of the World’s Heavyweight Championship. It shows the measures he takes so that he or his sons can capture the elusive title.
The story is told through the eyes of Jack’s oldest son Kevin, played brilliantly by Zac Efron. Kevin is naive to most of the world and his father’s backroom deals. He says on multiple occasions, all he wants to do is wrestle with his brothers – Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Michael (Stanley Simons) – and for a while that’s exactly what he does.
During the 1980s the family is on top of the wrestling world but once tragedy strikes, the world starts falling apart for the Von Erichs.
The film feels like a tale of two halves, the first introduces the viewers to the Von Erichs and why wrestling is such a big deal for them, while the second showcases just how brutal the sport can be and the toll it can take.
The first half nails the comradery of Kevin and his three brothers. Durkin does a fantastic job giving each brother enough screentime that, despite all of them having whacky haircuts and muscles on muscles, they are all distinguishable. Kevin is the best in-ring performer, David is the best on the microphone, Kerry is the most well-rounded and Michael loves his music. They’re small details and may seem insignificant at the time, but they really help viewers understand and differentiate them.
Their love for one another is the heart of this film and the time spent building their relationships with one another helps deliver in the second half.
As a wrestling fan myself, I knew the story of the Von Erichs. I knew their importance to the sport but also the tragedy that follows. Knowing this still didn’t prepare me for the gut punch that this film delivers.
Its subject matter is heavy and there is little respite until the credits roll. At times this film is hard to watch and intentionally so. It makes a point to showcase that wrestling isn’t just about people in bright underwear, silly catchphrases, big hits and crazy flips. It shows for every John Cena or Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, there is a Von Erich.
When reflecting on the Iron Claw, there isn’t a lot I would want changed. Aside from some dialogue that is a bit too exposition-heavy or some reveals that felt slightly rushed, this film is well crafted. The scenes in the ring are top-notch, the character development for a lot of the characters is natural and the camera work is classic A24 – a film studio known for its artistic films.
While I enjoyed The Iron Claw, it is a film I don’t think I’ll ever watch again. Its heavy themes of drug abuse, suicide and domestic abuse make it difficult to want to return to but also make it an important tale to tell.
The Iron Claw is a brilliant film. It is superbly acted, brilliantly shot and its message is clear and precise. While I do think wrestling and non-wrestling fans alike should support this film, its themes make this movie one that a lot of people may find heavy going.
Original Article published by Jarryd Rowley on Riotact.