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‘The Iron Claw’

When I’ve been cooking recently, I’ve been mildly frustrated by struggling to find the right spices. Spice pots all look the same, and it’s difficult to find the correct one when they’re all stuck on a cupboard shelf. I’ve been wondering in idle moments whether I should buy a spice rack.

There’s a scene in The Iron Claw which features a wall-mounted spice rack quite prominently in the back of the shot. It looked awfully dated. It put me off.

All of which is to say: my mind was wandering as I watched this film. It didn’t hold my attention.

In fairness, it’s another film I picked by time slot, and which I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. It’s based on the true—and desperately tragic—story of the Von Erich family of wrestlers. This is ‘wrestlers’ in the sense of American wrestling, not some kind of Greco-Roman oily business.

In a nutshell, Fritz Von Erich—an overbearing father-figure—is a former wrestler who moves into the business side of the industry. He pushes his sons to become wrestlers and to seriously strive for the world title. Various tragedies befall the family. The film ends.

The film has received numerous positive reviews from audiences and critics alike, so don’t let anything you’re about to read put you off seeing the film. I don’t claim to know what I’m talking about, I’m just a bloke who sat in front of a screen for a couple of hours.

This is a story evidently based on tragic real events. Yet, the tragedy didn’t translate to the screen, mostly because it felt like a cast of crudely drawn cartoon characters. I had no emotional connection with any of them.

The film is sold as a reflection on toxic masculinity, but that also didn’t come across for me, for much the same reason. Characters who say things like ‘men don’t cry’ and ‘if we’re the strongest, the toughest, nothing can hurt us’ seem like satirical caricatures, not incisive social commentary. A man crying at the end of the film does not have the redemptive power that the script-writers imagine it has.

The film makes no attempt to reconcile its suggestion of 1980s hypermasculinity with the high camp of the wrestling industry itself. There are balletic scenes in the ring and discussions of choreography before bouts, but the characters discuss them entirely in terms of fighting. The film acknowledges that wrestling is a sort of theatrical performance, but never fully explains itself. This undercuts the main narrative of the film, which is about winning the world title, because we never really get to understand how that is achieved. There’s no explanation of who writes the ‘scripts’, or on what basis, or how our heroes might influence that outside the ring.

There were two stand-out performances.

Maura Tierney, who (despite a dazzling career) I know primarily as Maddie Hayward from The Good Wife, is wonderful. The film hints at an observation about faith—in God or in wrestling—which is achieved entirely through shots of a crucifix and Tierney’s face. The persistence of faith is a rich seam, and I wish they’d leaned into it further.

Michael Harney almost stole the show with a role which I can only assume was a creation for the film, a combination of television sports presenter and business advisor. Harney equipped his character with an unruffled warmth combined with a professional detachment from the emotion of the events happening around him. He became of beacon of sanity and depth.

I’ve noted that others have called this the performance of Zac Efron’s career. I thought his character was too crudely drawn for anyone to be able to perform it greatly. But I did spend a lot of the film marvelling about how much he looked like Rob Lowe, and low-key fantasising about a reboot of The West Wing.

The Iron Claw wasn’t for me, but other people think it’s the bees knees, so maybe you’d enjoy it.

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