2014 | Gleb Orlov
A young Ivan Poddubny curls his fists as a group of bullies descend on him. Instead of fighting, he makes the smart choice and evades them, running home. When he tells his father he has been teased, his father whips him for not staying and fighting. The Poddubnys are fighters, not runners. They are winners, not losers. This is an attitude Ivan adopts fully as he becomes a man, finding a job working as a fitter in a shipyard, known by his friends and colleagues as a strong-willed man with physical capabilities to match. Ivan Poddubny was actually an incredibly successful Greco-Roman wrestler, who remained undefeated from his first fight in a circus ring until his death in 1949. It is the classic, inspirational story of the underdog fighting against all odds to win. Unfortunately, Iron Ivan is an empty shell, an A-Z tale of the life of a famous wrestler.
Attending a circus after becoming captivated by a female performer, Ivan’s friends volunteer him to take part in a wrestling match against one of the performers. If he wins, he will enter a tournament for 3oo rubles. Ivan wins quite quickly, and soon signs a contract to join the circus as a performer disguised as a volunteer. Each win will net him five rubles. After successfully making his way to the end of the tournament, Ivan is asked by the promoter to drop his last match in fear of mutiny from the other performers. Offended, Ivan tears up his contract and feeds it to his now ex-boss, and he and lover Masha flee the circus together. The film leaps forward and Ivan is now training as a Greco-Roman wrestler, travelling the world in the name of the Russian royal family. As he gains more and more fame, he attracts the attention of some American promoters, and soon begins touring the States (and the rest of the world, again) as Iron Ivan.
What is seemingly a film about a man who fights against the odds and obstacles set before him to achieve his dreams is actually just a shallow imitation of the Hollywood formula. There is no excavation into Ivan’s apparently deep emotional connection with his family, rather they simply show up whenever it is necessary to motivate Ivan into making convenient decisions. Even when such connections are revisited, such as Ivan’s father storing newspaper clippings about his son in a bedside drawer, they have either not been explored, or brushed over so quickly that what should be poignant moments carry no emotional weight whatsoever.
From his dodgy American managers, who are so shifty there’s no possible way they can’t be untrustworthy, to his main in-ring rival, Raoul de Boucher, who has his own theme song akin to Star Wars‘ Darth Vader and illegal antics so obvious they’re neither surprising nor dramatic and when a jury of judges must decide whether they are to disqualify Raoul, the result is so predictable that any sense of foreboding for Ivan is gone, especially as the film’s characters point out they believe the jury has been bribed before a decision is made.
Director Gleb Orlov appears to have no sense of personal style, or even a personal connection to the film’s material, as he simply traipses through the material as if in resignation that the film has no purpose other than to simply exist. The film is so basic in its execution it could be used as a case study for teaching the basics to high school film students, and the films only experimentation – a wildly disorienting revolving shot – is so poorly executed it is served as an example of how not to convey disorientation.
It is a poor construction of poor material with no interest in delving further into what possibly could have been an inspirational, yet familiar, tale of overcoming odds and working hard to become the best. The film is so by-the numbers, far too interested in focusing on its non-linear narrative and spoon-feeding its audience that it actually becomes hard to determine what the film is actually trying to say to its audience.