The Iron Claw
There was a time in my life when I used to follow Wrestling as a part of the WWF(later christened to WWE). This part of my childhood did account for a cheap adrenaline rush as I was witness to some of the superstars of wrestling showcasing their moves which is a cult in the fan book of most 90s kids. And while I did have burning questions about the authenticity of the fights, I would still look forward to discussing the matchups with my buddies while occasionally imitating the moves as well(yes, do not try this at home, I know). So when I did get to know about the English film The Iron Claw which was based on the iconic wrestling family, Von Enrich, I was quite looking forward to it while expecting it to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane(although in a different era from the one that I had witnessed). Seldom did I know that I wasn’t quite prepared for the biopic that had such an emotionally heavy baggage to deal with. So then does The Iron Claw manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
The Iron Claw(a namesake of the wrestling move showcased by a member of the Von Enrich family) follows the story of the inseparable Von Enrich brothers who saw great heights in their wrestling careers through their share of life tragedies as well. The story here might be masked as a regular biopic but it accounts for one of the most tragic and heart-breaking dramas that I have witnessed in recent times, certainly the most heartbreaking in the biopic space. I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with the beats of the screenplay which in a way helped me emote in a rather unfiltered manner, often leaving me numb to the point that I felt hollow. The screenplay standing at about 130 minutes is designed as a tragicomedy wherein the world building allows you to invest in the characters and the bond that they share with each other before completely shattering you in the backend of the drama.
The drama begins with the action unfolding in a wrestling ring through some gorgeous monochrome frames. You are introduced to the character of Fritz, a father to three children then(he had six children overall in real life) who showcases his killer moves before coming out on top. But if you do look closely at the very next scene, then you would know that the ‘real’ action unfolding would be in the family. The character of the father is an interesting case study of toxic parenting. While he is fine to showcase his flamboyant lifestyle, he wishes all of his four sons to tread the path of wrestling despite his youngest son inclined towards choosing music as his career. He is quick to rank his children according to his preference, a reality that he reminds his youngest son citing that ‘all could change’ if he cooperates. This, while his other sons look up to him and wish to be his favourite with Kevin being one of them.
Kevin who essentially plays the protagonist is another interesting case study. He is touted as the ‘second favourite son’ of his father and constantly wishes to top the ‘rankings’. His overtly buff persona hides a little vulnerable soul of someone who has lost his younger brother, all of 5 years old whom he dearly misses yet doesn’t quite discuss it with anyone in his family. This fact is revealed to an outsider with whom he is romantically inclined, often presenting his insecurity of the curse associated with their family name. The fact that he doesn’t openly discuss it with members of his family highlights the patriarchal angle of wrestling that doesn’t necessarily highlight the vulnerabilities of men in the ring.
The proceedings are engaging while allowing the viewers ample of breathing space with investing in characters while suddenly taking shocking and tragic turns in the second hour. It is at certain junctures of the drama wherein you start to get hollow from within as the body count rises, even as the action is the ring is limited to being on the sidelines. The collective vulnerability of the family suffering from grief is painstakingly showcased and makes for a shattering watch of the highest order. The writers show no respite right upto the stellar final act wherein the protagonist enters a philosophical space by uttering the words ‘ I used to be a brother, and now I am not a brother anymore’. This single line is enough to make you emotionally numb in what is a wonderfully penned screenplay that hoodwinks the audience into believing that this is a standard biopic on wrestling when it is clearly not.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are thought-provoking and so well penned, simplistic and extremely impactful witj the underlying emotions in play. The BGM is pretty interesting given that it is subdued and melancholic even in the sequences in the ring, and the notes truly represent the heartfelt vibe of the drama that dares to go deep into the psyche of the wrestlers. The cinematography captures some stunning frames with the right mix of tight closeups to take a peek into the soul of the characters while balancing it with some incredible wide shots which highlight the drama unfolding in the center of the ring. The editing is crisp and sharp so much so that you don’t realise the smaller fragments that the drama is mounted on as it switches from one event to another. Director Sean Durkin does an outstanding job in keeping his cards close to his chest in a brilliant sense of world building before placing the multiple tragedies on the table. This required a certain sense of craft, and he beautifully executes the drama while intertwining it with some interesting character traits.
The performances are incredibly good by the ensemble cast. Maura Tierney as Doris is often a silent spectator to the overwhelming control that her husband possesses with their kids, and she does a wonderful job here. Lily James as Pam is a character that has a mind of her own which can be validated by the fact that she questions the authenticity of the action in the ring thereby startling the protagonist. And she continued to remain a silent support while ensuring that her hubby doesn’t tread a similar path as some of the other members of the family. She was refreshingly good in the film. Stanley Simons as Mike delivers a heartfelt performance that will shatter you in a million pieces. Haris Dickinson as David has his moments to shine. Jeremy Allen White as Kerry is exceptionally good particularly in the final act wherein he showcases his vulnerability for the first time to his brother. Holt McCallany as Fritz is an epitome of toxic parenting wherein he is relentless towards pushing his sons in the ring despite knowing what loss is in the form of his eldest son. And this infuriating aspect of his character accounted for a superb act. Zac Efron as Kevin has transformed into a beast, physically speaking. This ain’t the guy with whom you were acquainted with in the High School Musical. Yet, he showcases his vulnerability with such grace and finesse that you instantly empathize with him. He is phenomenal here in a towering performance filled with grit and vulnerability.
The Iron Claw is a corrosive patriarchal drama that accounts for one of the most tragic biopics made in recent times. The drama comes with my highest recommendation. Available in a theatre near you.