December 21, 2023

CINEMA | Zac Efron Outmaneuvers 'The Iron Claw'

"I used to be a brother."
Zac Efron Jeremy Allen White Harris Dickinson Stanley Simons Lily James Sean Durkin | The Iron Claw
A24 / Elevation Pictures
Accomplished indie filmmaker Sean Durkin dramatizes the tearjerking real-life tragic history and supposed "curse" of the legendary Von Erich dynasty of wrestlers in The Iron Claw. Based out of the Dallas Sportatorium, the Von Erich brothers (born "Adkisson") dominated the old-school 1980s territorial wrestling promotion scene out of World Class Championship Wrestling, run and owned by their father.

Starring a totally jacked Zac Efron, soulful Jeremy Allen White, and exuberant Harris Dickinson as the main trio of Texas wrestling brothers, Kevin, Kerry (aka the "Texas Tornado"), and David, their sixth sibling Chris' presence has been purposely omitted from the film to pull back on the further tragedy of the family's legacy (the oldest, Jack Jr., died in childhood) with elements of his story given to fifth brother, Mike (Stanley Simons). It's an impressive ensemble cast centred on the menacing Holt McCallany as the hardened and demanding patiarch Fritz, alongside Maura Tierney as doting wife/mother Doris.

Efron gives a towering heavyweight performance that grounds the heart-shattering second half of the film as tragic events start to build on top of each other. A southern-accented Lily James charms as Kevin's wife Pam to add some much-needed hopefulness to the dire real-life story. Durkin manages a tricky balance of the period drama injected with elements of a biographical sports film.

There's an all-American quality to the darkness of the toxic sense of machismo personified. Fritz very much internalized his grief and tragedy. This repression only further extended the multigenerational family curse by ignoring the complex feelings of his boys. Kevin was the only son given a chance to break the cycle by honouring and caring for his brothers in the way he best knew how and by understanding them as men without judgment.

Titled after the signature wrestling finishing maneuver, The Iron Claw draws on its bruising yet sentimental true drama to express the devastating emotions of its close-knit subjects as characters and siblings bonded by their intense competition. Amidst the sweat and smoke-filled rings or sports auditoriums, the upsetting film throws back to a bygone era of hyper-masculine entertainment focused on brotherhood.

More | YVArcade / Indiewire / Polygon / ScreenCrush

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