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The Warrior – The Iron Claw

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The Warrior – The Iron Claw

A24 doesn’t miss a beat and this time takes us into the world of wrestling in the 80s to tell us the story of the Von Erich family.

It was 2006 when Sylvester Stallone (may he be praised) rebuilt his career by bringing back into the limelight and into cinemas what he himself defines as “my best friend”, the imperishable Rocky Balboa. Of that film of the same name from almost 18 years ago for posterity it remained above all a shredded monologue which is still very popular today TikTokas a reel in the motivational pages of mindset and how file forwarded many times in WhatsApp chats with older relatives. In this famous extract Rocky catechizes his son thus: “no one can hit as hard as life does, so going forward it’s not important how you hit, the important thing is how you resist the blows, how you take action and if you end up knocked down you have the strength to get back up!”. The beloved Italian stallion doesn’t mind but in these few lines full of rhetoric and testosterone much of the philosophy that The Warrior – The Iron Clawthe latest A24 film, written and directed by Sean Durkin (The Nest), seeks to deconstruct and question, putting the spotlight on the dangers linked to this type of macho education, a product of the eighties and on the recurring damage that rhetoric of the American dream begat on Uncle Sam’s grandchildren.

Life with i From Eric, the family at the center of the events of The Warrior – The Iron Claw, was more ruthless than any other opponent ever faced in the ring. The film immediately introduces us to the figure of Jack “Fritz” Von Erich, former wrestler, promoter and owner of the Texan World Class Championship Wrestling federation; Fritz is the patriarch and father of four children, raised on bread, church and wrestling with the sole aim of excelling in the family discipline to fulfill his lifelong dream: to bring home the long-coveted heavyweight champion belt touched by the head of the family when he was in business. For the Von Erichs, wrestling is the guiding star of their existence: it is with their father’s matches that they managed to make ends meet and for this reason it is considered the only safe job capable of ensuring bread on the table. From an early age, children were raised in an environment of constant mutual competition, mentalized and pushed to train to the limit to achieve their sporting goal at any cost, without paying attention to the suffering and waste on mental and physical health that such pressure inevitably ends up resulting.

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In the family ideology (endorsed by a silent mother, devoted only to her husband and the Almighty) there is no challenge that cannot be won, there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome and there is no enemy, true or figuratively speaking, that you cannot be overwhelmed if you have faith in God and in training. Winning is the only thing that matters and defeat is a source of indignation and blame, a disgrace that cannot be associated with the name of the Von Erichs. All other artistic, work or love ambitions developed by the children over the years are considered an obstacle to the stepfather’s original plan and therefore end up being progressively prohibited or, at best, discouraged and branded as useless wastes of time. Despite the obvious weight of all these constraints and the oppressive climate of internal competition, Kevin (a surprising Zac Efron with a herculean physique that has never been so convincing) Kerry (a Jeremy Allen White increasingly launched, even on the big screen) David (the excellent Harris Dickinson) and Mike manage to grow by loving each other and remaining closer than ever. On the basis of the military and affectionless ethics in which the Von Erichs were raised (yessiris Kevin’s typical eye-down response to his parent’s requests)iron claw of the original title (The Warrior is just a redundant frill resulting from the Italian adaptation) must therefore be seen not only in reference to the iconic move of Von Erich senior, the one with which he used to crush the faces of his opponents in the ring, but above all from the perspective of the grip of expectations and toxicity in which his children live trapped. Efron’s sculptural and explosive body (like Mickey Rourke’s tired and bruised one in The Wrestler by Aronofsky) is the nerve center of the film, an armor on which the film often focuses, built over the years with sweat and effort that clashes and does not go well with the good-natured and introverted character of the aspiring champion.

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The world of wrestling in The Warrior – The Iron Claw, despite excellent attention to the fights (thanks to the expert advice of Chavo Guerrero Jr.) and some winks here and there to the sacred monsters of that era (Ric Flair above all) is shown to us especially at the beginning, keeping a safe distance and peering right through the keyhole. The sideshow that emerges appears like a large and colorful money machine, a sort of tiring show of real but choreographed beatings that follows a precise storytelling, in which everyone plays the part assigned to them by the upper levels based on predetermined agreements and conditions. In its second part, when the sporting story is set aside to inevitably make room for the family story, the film ends up on the ropes, showing all its writing limitations without being able to propose something more captivating than a sequential and cyclical narrative of mourning, whose slavish succession ends up inhibiting and limiting the emotional impact of each of them. Everything, it must be said, is however treated with measure and absolute respect (in agreement with the Von Erichs themselves) without indulging in too explicit scenes or mere pornography of pain (and it is precisely in this perspective that Durkin justified the disputed choice to omit Chris Von Erich’s character from the film to “streamline”, according to him, a plot that was otherwise already too tragic).

The Warrior – The Iron Claw however, as mentioned, offers the best when it focuses in its first part on Efron and his Kevin, on the daily life, dreams and hopes of this real creature at the mercy of a sadistic Doctor Frankenstein . A father who, like many other great old men (in more or less similar and/or questionable ways) in the history of sport, shaped him in his image by introjecting his own economic aspirations and his own dreams of glory into his body and his spirit, and who is ready to dump him without any scruples at the first failure, handing over the baton to the most promising brother of the moment. Efron is good at containing himself and not overacting even when the plot would allow him to, communicating with the unsaid in long silences and moments of reflection. Kevin is nothing more than a child in the wiry body of an adult, a peasant athlete who grew up in a home bubble between guns and crucifixes who still doesn’t know women and the outside world, a gentle giant who feels good only when he takes refuge with his brothers graze in their nest. He cannot cry or show weakness when he wants to and is constantly called upon to play a role, a bold and boastful alter ego that does not represent him in anything and for nothing. In a sport dotted with masks, both literal and metaphorical, he doesn’t have the eloquence or personality to break through and conquer the public and this leads him to doubt and lose confidence in himself, as well as positions that benefit his brothers (to whom he will remain however always faithful, feeling envy without ever real hostility) in the good graces of his father. The character of Lily James it is the only lifeline that life offers him: it is she who encourages him to pull his head out of the sand, teaching him what love really is and offering him a glimpse of perspective and a different future, free from the parental yoke that oppresses him unconsciously since he was born. If it is true that the patriarchy (as Greta Gerwig recently explained in a recent film that you may have vaguely heard about) has ruined the world, The Warrior – The Iron Claw shows us that even men, the very ones we usually identify as the beneficiaries of such dynamics as well as the designated executioners can in turn be the unaware victims of its distortions and its toxic principles and reminds us that there is nothing wrong in crying and stripping ourselves of our armor of appearances when life gives us a punch, especially of in front of the people we love most and who know and love us for who we really are.

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