Growing up in Texas in the 80s, there were three sports everyone took very seriously: football, college football, and professional wrestling. Every kid had their favorite wrestler—mine was Ric Flair because he was the sparkliest—and everyone knew about the “Von Erich curse”. As a kid, I was never quite sure what it meant, just that if a family had the “Von Erich curse”, it meant they had some kind of bad luck. The Von Erichs are a famous wrestling family, but an entire generation was almost wiped out by a succession of tragedies in the 1980s and early 1990s. The family is the subject of a new film, a late entry to the award season lists, The Iron Claw. The film stars Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich (born Kevin Adkisson), and Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich.
The film is written and directed by Sean Durkin, who broke out with Martha Marcy May Marlene. It looks gritty and grimy and there is an emphasis on how hard family patriarch Jack, known professionally as Fritz Von Erich, is pushing his sons, but I bet everyone is just going to focus on how jacked Zac Efron and JAW got for this film. They got super jacked! Anyway, Holt McCallany stars as Jack/Fritz, and Triangle of Sadness star Harris Dickinson stars as other brother David Von Erich. Of all the transformations in the film, waifish Brit Dickinson turning himself into a believable 80s Texas roid monster is the most compelling. There is also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it look at The Deuce’s Aaron Dean Eisenberg as Ric Flair, who had a rivalry with most of the Von Erich brothers at one point or another.
The Iron Claw comes from indie darling distributor A24. It looks like the kind of character-driven, auteurist film they’ve become known for, as the studio behind such films as The Bling Ring, Spring Breakers, Ex Machina, Slow West, Room, The Witch, Moonlight, Lady Bird, Hereditary, and Uncut Gems. Over their one decade in business, A24 has built a reputation for immaculate taste and talent-spotting, releasing the first features of filmmakers like Robert Eggers, Ari Aster, Bo Burnham, Daniels, and Greta Gerwig. Last year, A24 became the first studio to win all of the “big six” awards at the Oscars, with Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actress, and Supporting Actor going to Everything Everywhere All At Once, and Best Actor going to The Whale.
A24 is fancy Marvel, a studio with its own fans and recognizable “house style”. It’s also valued at $2.5 billion, and maybe that’s behind the news that A24 is seeking to become more commercial, looking into expand into more mainstream fare (EEAAO was their first $100M+ hit). This is being presented as a “shift in strategy” as A24’s acquisition boss, Noah Sacco “made the rounds” of talent agencies over the summer, looking for “action and big IP projects” for the studio.
This is sort of disheartening news, as A24 was practically the only proof that indie films can still do well. But “do well” becomes relative when an equity firm invests over $200 million in your company, and suddenly modest returns on low-budget films isn’t enough. That investment is what resulted in the $2.5 billion valuation of the company, and now it seems the folks at A24 are feeling some pressure to “live up” to that number. Or maybe it’s the result of Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid, their most expensive film ever with a budget of $35 million, flopping. Having a $100 million hit one year and an epic flop the next sounds like typical show business to me, because movies are not a growth business. It’s an enterprise akin to gambling where nine out of every ten rolls of the dice is a snake eyes. Used to be, people were okay rolling those dice, but now everyone wants 6% growth year over year. Private equity ruins f-cking EVERYTHING.
There is SOME hope that A24 won’t pivot away from their indie bread and butter entirely, but just start making bigger, more broadly appealing films alongside their usual fringe fare. And, maybe, optimistically, we can hope they’ll bring their quality-first sensibility to mainstream filmmaking. I guess we’ll just have to see. If they can find a way to maintain their ethos while expanding their business, great. But how many times have we seen otherwise healthy businesses fail once Wall Street gets involved? I swear to the goddess if these f-cking Jordan Belfort assholes cost us A24… The Iron Claw might end up being the last generation of A24 films as we’ve known them.