The Iron Claw

A Devastating Film About the Legendary Wrestling Family

As far as I can remember, I’ve always loved pro wrestling. Growing up in Puerto Rico in the 80s, I would watch the bloodbath between local hero Carlos Colón and visiting legends Bruiser Brody, Abdullah the Butcher, and Stan Hansen, among others. Often joining the local heels (bad guys), a heel would make our babyface (good guy) hero and other locals’ lives miserable. 

Carlitos Colón was considered the region’s hero and was the most famous personality in the area. And those heels coming from outside would humiliate the babyfaces until they finally get beaten at a big event. That’s usually how the NWA territories would book their storylines before WWF and WCW took them over and established themselves as mainstream nationwide promotions. Sean Durkin’s new film chronicles the heroes from the Dallas territory WCCW, the Von Erich family. 

Property of A24.

About the Film

The film begins with a Fritz Von Erich match from the 1960s. The black and white photography combined with the inside-the-ring action reminded me of what Scorsese did on Raging Bull. A monochromatic yet authentic look at in-ring fights. This introduction sets the stage for what everyone’s motives will revolve around. That is, Fritz Von Erich’s obsession with him or his children becoming NWA world champions.

Moving forward to 1979 at the famous Sportatorium, a realistic rendition of Kevin, David, Bruiser Brody, and Gino Hernandez are planning their match. And this is where the action in color starts. Sean Durkin does a good work portraying everything as close to the actual events as possible. The set design, the characters, and the depiction of the local TV broadcast. Everything’s down to goodness. 

For the rest of the first act, the movie takes its time introducing all the characters and showing the pressure of being the local favorite wrestlers. However, the film took its liberties, such as not including the younger Von Erich brother and omitting details to move the story forward. We see all character traits before one of the most stimulating movie montages in recent memory. From the moment that needle drops and Rush’s Tom Sawyer starts playing, they’re all wrestling, drinking, and doing drugs, regular 80s pro wrestling stuff. 

The Tragedy Starts

They should’ve put a disclaimer before the Rush montage. Because the fun stops there. From there on, we’ll watch the tragedy taking place. And it reminds us that they took more than Raging Bull than just the black and white of the five minutes. More than a professional wrestling film, this a film about the consequences of an obsessed and abusive father. As much as Raging Bull was about the obsessions of a man, more than it is about boxing. 

Rather than an idealized look at northern Texas and the WCCW territory. This is a gritty and realistic presentation of territorial pro wrestling in Dallas as it deteriorated with each passing of the Von Erich family. It’s a cautionary tale of all the things that come with sacrificing life for the sport that people love to call “fake.” A word to the wise about parenting, depression, drugs, alcohol, physical health, downfall, and everything else that comes with “fake” pro wrestling. 

Would things have been better if Fritz wasn’t an abusive father? What about booking Kevin as NWA World Champion right from the start? What if Kerry didn’t like motorcycles? How about Mike deciding to be a musician? Those are questions that will never get answers. But if one thing this movie is saying to us. Life as a pro wrestler isn’t simple. 

Ric Flair

The only negative of this movie is that joke about Ric Flair almost ruining it for me. In the same film, we got body transformations, award-worthy performances from Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White, and this uninspired interpretation of Ric Flair. How’s that even possible? I’ve seen drunk people imitate that piece of shit way better than whatever Aaron Dean Eisenberg tried to do. However, this is my take as a wrestling fan and will not ruin the film for the general audience.

A Wrestling Fan Conclusion

Going back to growing up as a wrestling fan. I noticed from the inside that the general public sees pro wrestling as a joke. The nationwide proliferation of silly gimmicks, unfunny comedy, and mediocrity from WWF/WWE and WCW. Even AEW up to a point nowadays can be the culprit of this general perception. 

Hopefully, this film is an addition to works that take pro wrestling seriously, respect the business, and the physical and mental afflictions pro wrestlers go through during and after their careers. So it’s time to forget jokes and stupid movies like Ready to Rumble and give more attention to documentaries like Beyond the Mat, as well as films like Aronofky’s The Wrestler, Saraya’s biopic Wrestling With My Family, and this article’s topic, The Iron Claw. 

In conclusion, use the word fake to describe pro wrestling all you want. But the bruises and tragedies are real. 


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