Wrestling has always been one of the most prolific sports globally. In late 70s and early 80s it started to shift into more of performance art, which we of course know as WWE today. From the taglines to outfits and music, it's drag for straight people. The 80s brought Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant and Ric Flair to the mainstream and made them international stars. One family that was there throughout all of it was the Von Erich family - and their story is now the basis of the new film 'The Iron Claw'.
Jack Von Erich (Holt McCallany, 'Nightmare Alley', 'Wrath of Man'), the family patriarch, pushed all of his boys into the ring. He is ruthless and heartless in his approach, telling his sons he has favourites - but as soon as one fails he moves to the next. Kevin (Zac Efron, 'The Greatest Showman', 'High School Musical' franchise), the eldest after his brother died at a age 6, wants to be the best and make his dad proud. But the family suffers from a curse and at every turn and are meet with hardship and challenge. Kerry (Jeremy Allen White, TV's 'The Bear' and 'Shameless') makes it to the Olympics, but the 1980 games were boycotted so he is thrown back into the ring, David (Harris Dickinson, 'Scrapper', 'Where the Crawdads Sing') has the chance to fight the current world champion but dies, and youngest son Mike (Stanley Simons, TV's 'Law and Order: SVU') wants to focus on music but his father constantly forces him back into wrestling. Kevin marries Pam (Lily James, 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again', 'Yesterday') and the two start a family - but Kevin is scared as the family curse keeps tearing the family apart, he has to either face it or run from his name.
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'The Iron Claw' is an emotional rollercoaster. It's so raw and heavy, and going into this knowing nothing about the real story I was floored by just how devastating it is. All of the performances - but especially from Efron, White and Dickinson - are career bests. They throw themselves into these roles and make you feel every single punch. It's a crowning achievement in biopics; just truly exceptional work across the board. The film is a slow burn to the gut-punching reality of the family's history, pulling you in and then breaking your heart over and over again.
Masculinity in film is always a tough feat - femininity is more often portrayed on film because women, typically, are much more open with their emotions. Men, stereotypically, are not as open with their feelings. Wrestling films, I think especially, also have a subtext of toxic masculinity, performing such a "manly" act - physically fighting another man for accolades. One of the things that shocked me in 'The Iron Claw' was the way writer/director Sean Durkin ('Martha Marcy May Marlene') dove into the topic of toxic masculinity and made it the forefront of this story. The "cruse" is that of the pressure Jack puts on his sons, and what ultimately broke this family. Kevin's journey is him breaking that down and discovering his own version of masculinity. One of the last lines of the film is his sons telling him, "It's okay to cry... We do it all the time."
'The Iron Claw' is an emotional rollercoaster. It's so raw and heavy, and going into this knowing nothing about the real story I was floored by just how devastating it is. All of the performances - but especially from Efron, White and Dickinson - are career bests.
'The Iron Claw' is a crowning achievement of the biopic genre - the way it encapsulates the Von Erich's family's story is beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. Its viewpoint on toxic masculinity is sure to resonate with many viewers. It's an absolute knockout.