“The Iron Claw” hits theaters on Dec. 22 (Photo Credit: A24 Films).

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(“The Iron Claw” trailer courtesy of A24)

Hands down, “The Iron Claw” is one of the most tragic family dramas ever told on the big screen.

The fact that it is based on the true story of a professional wrestling family makes it even more hurtful.

In the end, “The Iron Claw” tells the sorrowful tale of the Von Erich family, whose bad luck might be wrestling’s equivalent to the tragic story of the Kennedy political family, which endured heartbreak after heartbreak.

Talent often runs in the family.

Music has The Isley Brothers, The Jacksons and Tony! Tony! Tone!

Comedy has the Wayans family.

Basketball has the Curry family and football has the Mannings.

And American politics have political dynasties like the Kennedy family and the Bush family.

However, the problem with dynasties of any sort is that the dynastic family is often ruled by a patriarch with an iron fist who cares little for his children’s desires in life.

Domineering fathers like Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) in “The Iron Claw” often only care that they can live their dreams vicariously through their children, even if it destroys the family bond and destroys the actual dreams of their children.

Americans of a certain age have seen such stories play out in real time throughout the past several decades.

Famously, aspiring musician and steel mill worker Joe Jackson did not find fame, stardom and wealth with his blues band, The Falcons.

Therefore, when he discovered that his children had musical talents, he put all his efforts into making them worldwide superstars.

He succeeded by creating The Jackson Five, which led to solo stardom for Michael Jackson and later his baby sister, Janet Jackson.

Unfortunately, Jackson’s children missed out on normal childhoods and normal adult lives.

And fatherly love often got replaced by abuse and back-breaking work.

LaVar Ball did it with his basketball playing sons, Lonzo and LaMelo Ball.

He did not have the talent to make it in basketball.

Therefore, he sought out a wife that would probably give him athletic children as if making children was a science project.

He then forced them to endorse his athletic apparel brand, which led to family dysfunction and subsequent lawsuits.

In “The Iron Claw,” Fritz is the exact same as the elder Jackson and Ball.

Fritz has a baby boy named Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) who has no interest in wrestling.

In “The Iron Claw,” Mike has his heart set on a career as a rock musician.

As a high school student, he even has scored some paid gigs.

Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), Fritz’s favorite child at the time, also has his eyes set on a career outside of wrestling, which is O.K. with Fritz because it still involves sports.

The apple of Fritz’s eye has a good shot at making the United States Olympic track & field team in 1980.

However, when former President Jimmy Carter boycotts the Olympics to be played in the Soviet Union, Kerry’s dreams are dashed in an instant.

He returns to the family’s Texas home despondent and eager to please his overbearing father.

Therefore, wrestling becomes Kerry’s new career.

But it is still not his first choice.

In “The Iron Claw,” Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) is probably the closest thing to a sure bet for this wrestling family.

If anyone gets a title shot, it would be Kevin.

Unfortunately, Kevin does not have the charm and charisma in front of television cameras like his brother David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson), a trait needed to promote one’s career and speed up the process to become a championship contender.

Fritz never got a real chance at the belt.

Therefore, it is up to his children to make his dreams come true.

While many people who are not fans of professional wrestling might dismiss “The Iron Claw” as just another sports film, it is much more than that.

It is a cautionary family tale that many parents should see.

Additionally, even many wrestling fans might underestimate “The Iron Claw” initially.

At first glimpse, it appears to be a big screen version of the Starz show “Heels,” which focused on a wrestling family in small town Georgia.

The show centers around a son named Jack Spade, who takes over his father’s wrestling company after he dies, tragically.

Jack’s father King Spade never quite made it as a professional wrestler.

Therefore, Jack is determined to take his father’s company to heights he never even imagined.

Also, Jack’s little brother Ace is the real athlete of the family.

But when football does not work for him, he reluctantly gives the family business a try.

However, “The Iron Claw” digs deeper than “Heels” did when it comes to children finding their own way and life and parents not vicariously living their dreams through their children’s lives.

Rap icon Drake once said, “you only live once.”

Therefore, children of domineering parents must realize, sooner rather than later, that their lives are to make themselves happy and make their own dreams come true, not give their parents a second, third, fourth and fifth chance at success.

When one puts their dreams on hold so that they can become a guinea pig for someone else, good things rarely come of it.

What good does come from “The Iron Claw,” and there is a lot of good, is the performance of Efron who gives the best performance of his career.

Unfortunately, “The Iron Claw” is too sad and tragic to take sometimes.

However, that is the reality of life.

People must handle the good, the bad and the ugly.

And the fact that the bad and the ugly in “The Iron Claw” is true makes it that much more heartbreaking.

 

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FOUR CROWNS=EXCELLENT

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ONE CROWN=POOR

Todd A. Smith
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