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June 17, 2024

Wrestling Biopic “The Iron Claw” Generates Oscars Buzz Despite Controversy

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Dec 25, 2023

The new A24 film “The Iron Claw” depicts the tragic story of the Von Erich wrestling family and has generated significant awards season buzz, particularly for star Zac Efron’s gritty performance. However, the movie has also courted controversy for its omission of certain key details.

Efron’s Awards-Worthy Turn

“The Iron Claw” chronicles the rise and fall of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty in Texas during the 1960s-1980s. At the heart of the story is family patriarch Fritz Von Erich, played by Holt McCallany, and his sons David, Kerry, Mike, Chris, and Kevin, portrayed by various actors.

Zac Efron delivers a transformative performance as Kevin Von Erich, the sole surviving Von Erich brother who ultimately must bear witness to all of his siblings’ early deaths. Critics have singled out Efron’s acting as awards-caliber, with many predicting a Best Actor Oscar nomination.

As Variety notes, Efron spent months training to resemble a professional wrestler:

He had to learn to wrestle, and wrestle like a professional wrestler…And then he had to wrestle while acting and delivering an emotional performance.

Efron himself told NPR about the intense prep required for the role:

It was just nonstop training — 4 a.m. workouts, 2 p.m. wrestling practices, 11 p.m. drama rehearsals…It ended up being one of the most rewarding experiences of my life…It absolutely wrecked me.

Critical Acclaim Despite Dark Subject Matter

Despite depicting the successive tragedies of the Von Erich family, including drug addiction and multiple suicides, reviews for “The Iron Claw” have been strong. As of writing, the film holds an 88% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Los Angeles Times calls it “an absorbing fact-based drama,” while The Atlantic deems it “devastating and profound.” Director Sean Durkin’s script focuses more on family bonds than on wrestling action.

Industry bible The Hollywood Reporter spotlights Durkin’s screenplay and how he made difficult choices regarding what real-life incidents to include:

He made judicious and agonizing decisions about what aspects of the Von Erichs’ story to tell onscreen. Durkin didn’t want to shy away from the family’s darkness but he also searched for pockets of light.

Glaring Omission of Youngest Brother’s Death

The one choice that has sparked significant criticism is Durkin’s decision to not directly address the death of Chris Von Erich, the youngest Von Erich sibling. Chris died by suicide in 1991 at age 21, which deeply affected his brother Kerry prior to Kerry’s own suicide two years later.

However, Chris and his death are never explicitly mentioned in “The Iron Claw.” His existence is hinted at best through family photos. Several critics have called out this glaring omission of established fact:

It’s absolutely baffling that a movie aiming for definitive truth about this family and the tragic arc of their lives would omit something so formative, so painful, and so public.

Durkin has defended this decision, telling Variety:

I just didn’t feel it was possible to do justice to his story…It was about choosing what was possible to focus on within the span of one film.

Regardless, the film still seems poised for potential Oscar nominations beyond just Efron. It received three nominations at the recent Critics Choice Awards, including Best Picture. So despite the Chris controversy, “The Iron Claw” remains a prime awards season contender.

Von Erich Family Reactions Mixed

The two surviving Von Erich brothers, Kevin and David’s namesake son David Jr., have expressed conflicting opinions on their family’s portayal. David Jr. wrote on Twitter that Durkin captured the family’s essence:

{{< tweet user=”davidjvonerich” id=”1738305464016765134″ >}}

However, Kevin Von Erich made a rare statement to the press criticizing Durkin’s interpretation:

He took a little too much Hollywood liberties…Some things happened different ways.

Kevin took particular issue with the movie’s depiction of family patriarch Fritz as abusive.

Overall though, their reactions seem far less negative than how other real-life families have responded to biopics, like how the Gucci family despised their portrayal in “House of Gucci.” At minimum, the Von Erich family drama seems sure to continue beyond just the film itself.

What Might Happen Next

Now that “The Iron Claw” has performed well critically and commercially, possible next steps include:

  • Expanded awards recognition – If Zac Efron receives an Oscar nomination as predicted, it would significantly raise the film’s profile further. Sean Durkin could potentially be in the mix for a Best Original Screenplay nomination as well.

  • Increased interest in wrestling – By dramatizing the real-life stories of famous wrestlers, mainstream attention on wrestling may surge. Upstart companies like All Elite Wrestling could benefit.

  • More Von Erich focused projects – Given the family’s immense influence on Texas wrestling history, their story seems ripe for continued exploration, whether in future films, TV shows, or documentaries.

While the Chris Von Erich controversy raises fair questions about creative license, ultimately “The Iron Claw” succeeds at depicting the Von Erich family story in a compelling, masterful fashion. By sparking conversation about both the Von Erichs and wrestling’s wider impact on culture, its ripples seem destined to spread far and make a definitive mark this awards season and beyond.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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