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The Iron Claw

Updated: Mar 3

Why is no one talking about Zac Efron this award season? He's physically transformed himself into a hulking presence (the Academy loves that!) delivering his all-time best performance in THE IRON CLAW.

In a story that's so tragic and bizarre, it can only be true, we are immersed into the lives of the Von Erich wrestling family.

OK, so I should say up front that I think wrestling is the dumbest sport on the planet. The viewing audience tends to be on the lower end of the intelligence scale, the smaller the town, the bigger the audience.

In the early 80's, I remember attending a Wrestlemania event with friends, laughing until my sides hurt at the hijinks of the morons in the ring. As the night went on, the laughter kind of faded and I felt like I was immersed in some sort of crazy social experiment, surrounded by a lot of folks that clearly thought this bullshit was real.

What the film does brilliantly is it brings you deeper into the entertainment, clearly showing that yes, every match is choreographed, but also detailing what happens when human emotions and ambition take over and things go off script.

The film opens with the leader of the clan, Fritz Von Erich (Colt McCallany from "Mindhunter") winning a match and then meeting his wife Doris (Maura Tierney, "Insomnia") and their two young kids outside the arena. It's a clever, well-shot black & white opening that deftly sets up what's ahead.

We flash forward a couple decades. Fritz and Doris now have 4 boys, having lost their oldest at the age of 5. We're never told how, but there's talk of a family curse that seems to hover over them.

Their oldest, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White from "The Bear") is an Olympic discus hurler, prepping for the 1980 Moscow games. Their second oldest, Kevin (Efron) is just starting to follow in his Dad's footsteps, and he's gaining a following quickly.

Efron is fascinating to watch in and out of the ring. Is he stupid? Is he just a dull meathead? He was on screen for over an hour before I started to figure those questions out.

Their brother David (Harris Dickinson) eventually also has aspirations in the ring and proves to be a born showman. Their younger brother Mike (Stanley Simons) wants nothing to do with the sport. An aspiring musician, he's got his own career path.

What fascinates throughout is watching this family navigate their future.

The family dynamics are unpredictable. Fritz rules the boys FAR past any age where that seems reasonable. Doris barely says a word or has an opinion, carrying the torch of Catholicism over the Von Erichs like an impending sword of judgement.

As the boys each find themselves in the spotlight, they react to it in dramatically different ways.

That family curse becomes a heavy burden. There are more tragedies in this true-life story than any two John Irving novels combined. They pile up, but never get easier to bear.

Lily James (Baby Driver) is terrific as Kevin's wife. Her growth from shy young woman to fierce wife and mother is impressive. Her voice never raises, but James brings the power.

McCallany impresses, as always. He's a presence as Fritz. The man can sit in a recliner in the middle of his early 80's living room and scare the crap out of you without moving. Efron matches him in every scene, he's terrific. Showing the most range he's ever conveyed as an actor, he leaves his singing and dancing roles in "The Greatest Showman" and "Hairspray" about 80lbs of muscle behind.

This may be a wrestling flick, but that's simply the backdrop for a powerful tale of family, tragedy and grief.

I haven't seen any of Writer/Director Sean Durkin's other work. He establishes his style quickly with a jagged blend of period music, vivid recreations of matches and a moody pall that clings to the family.

Life truly is stranger than fiction, a fact that THE IRON CLAW powerfully grasps all the way to an A.

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Unknown member
Feb 17

I'll be watching this now!

Unknown member
Feb 17
Replying to

It's powerful, Julie. Surprised me.