By Jason Delgado
I grew up a fervent WWF (wrestling) fan in the 80’s and 90’s. The personalities were larger than life, just like their superhero-like physiques, with guys like Macho Man Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, the Ultimate Warrior, and Hulk Hogan being seemingly indestructible. Sadly, many of these wrestlers have died young, with the brutal toll on their bodies and personal lives being far from “fake” (chronicled superbly in the show The Dark Side of Wrestling).
The Von Erich brothers are arguably the greatest family in wrestling history, with their tragic, yet still inspirational, true-life tale being the basis for The Iron Claw. Fritz Von Erich (played pitch perfectly by Holt McCallany) is the patriarch of the family, ruling with an iron fist and burning desire to have a wrestling champion, going as far as to rank his sons in the order that he loves them based on their achievements.
Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White from The Bear) starts out as the favorite, since he is training to compete in the Olympics. David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson) is the oddball, skinny non-athlete of the bunch, with Kevin (Zac Efron) and Mike (Stanley Simons) being naturals for wrestling, yet they all end in the squared circle at some point because of their strict father.
Kevin tells his girlfriend Pam (Lily James) early on that his family has a history of being cursed, but that he doesn’t believe in curses. That certainly changes during the course of the film, and it is heartbreaking to watch. Writer/director Sean Durkin and the amazing ensemble cast, led by a ripped Efron, get you to care about all of these characters. This story is about a family that truly loves each other, which seems like an increasingly uncommon thing to see on the silver screen these days.
The classic rock movie soundtrack just plain shreds while transporting you back to that era, with Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and a new song called “Live That Way Forever,” performed by the character of David Von Erich at a house party to which his brothers sneak him off, that beautifully becomes the theme of the film.
The wrestling scenes in the movie are both fun and realistic, showing how real injuries can happen, but also showcasing the playful side, both in and out of the ring, of legendary wrestlers such as “The Nature Boy” Rick Flair (who is also a producer on the film).
The main themes of The Iron Claw are love and loss and overcoming tragedy. This movie is powerfully gut-wrenching and beautiful, and will make you contemplate your own life, as great films tend to do. There is a scene at the end with Kevin and his two young boys that will have audiences in tears, as I was, due to the rawness, innocence, and profound thought that comes out of it. Humans have the power to overcome so much more than they think they can, emotionally and physically, and this movie is a stellar example of that.
I give The Iron Claw five out of five hot sauce packets. It’s hotter than the flames on Bam Bam Bigelow.