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Film / Iron Will

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Iron Will is a 1994 adventure/sports film released by Disney, directed by Charles Haid and starring Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, and David Ogden Stiers.

In 1917, seventeen-year-old Will Stoneman watches his father drown. To save the family farm, he enters a five-hundred-mile sled dog race in Manitoba. He puts himself through harsh training and wins beyond all expectations, attaining the title "Iron Will".

Has the examples of:

  • The All-American Boy: Will, a rookie racing on his own with nothing but some fruitcake for food, his dogs and a very old sled, running some absurdly long odds. The Title Drop is the nickname the press gives him as they sell his story to the public.
  • Badass Creed:You have one chance. You must run at night when the others have stopped. Run with the moon. Embrace the darkness. Grow hard with the cold. Put pain from your mind. And on the last day, when all will run at night... you alone will be friendly with the dark.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: The Native American Carey brothers are long-haired men who wear buckskin jackets. One of them also has some beads or other embroidery on his jacket.
  • Cut the Safety Rope: How Will's father sacrifices himself at the beginning of the film. It was either him or Will and the dogs being dragged into a frozen lake, and he made the call while Will was begging him not to.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Angus McTeague who cares far more about winning his bet than the lives of his mushers and is constantly trying to discourage Will or have him pushed out of the race.
  • Determinator: Will. All of the other racers have some experience and enough gear, but he has pretty much nothing other than the clothes on his back, the dogs, the sled and some fruit cake for food, running some absurdly long odds against survival, let alone winning.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Borg does this a few times, but none more obvious than when he lies in wait to ambush Will and sics his most vicious dog on the boy's team.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Borg takes a massive dislike to Will after the latter makes a youthful brag at the opening dinner.
  • Distressed Dude: Musher Gunnar Tveit, who nearly is lost and dies out there after going out into the cold with too little rest, before Will finds him and takes him to the next station.
  • The Dog Bites Back: A literal example! When his dogs stop out of exhaustion, Borg attempts to brutalize them into continuing. His abusive threats only prompt his dogs to attack him.
    • Will pulls a gun on Borg and punches him after the latter has one of his dogs attack Will's team. Will then does the same to Kingsley after realizing that the newspaperman is just using him at the moment to sell papers and get a promotion.
  • Enlightened Self-Interest: Harry's sponsorship of the impoverished Will Stoneman also helps him sell newspapers.
  • Epic Race: The Iditarod Race has always been epic, but the 1800s version of it even more so.
  • Good Parents: Will's parents. His father is the one who taught him how to dog sled. His loss is obviously a great tragedy.
  • Handicapped Badass: Borg is a brave and tough musher who lost two fingers to frostbite during a previous race. Of course, his cruel and cheating nature also make him an Evil Cripple.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Will has a bit of flirtation with an auburn-haired neighbor named Becky, who gives him a fur hat to keep him warm and goes to watch the end of the race.
  • Heroic Dog: Gus, the leader of Will's sled pulling team.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Harry is a headline-chaser who sponsors Will's entry in the race and follows it intently while covering his feats.
  • Magical Native American: Ned, a cryptic family friend who prepares Will for the race, is Native American.
  • Manly Facial Hair: The adult mushers are all bold, skilled, determined men and most of them have beards. The Carey brothers are unshaven and Joe McPherson, the only other American among the bunch, only has a mustache but this arguably makes them seem more manly due to how more facial hair provides more protection from the cold.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Borg's own dogs begin attacking him when he hits them once too often.
  • Kick the Dog: Borg literally kicks Will’s lead dog, Gus one night before the race begins. During the race, Borg sends his most vicious dog to attack Gus. Finally, Borg attempts to brutalize his own dogs when they stop near the end of the race.
  • The Magnificent: Iron Will. The nickname the press gives him as they catch on to his story and sell it to the audience, because they know underdogs sell papers.
  • Nice Mean And In Between: The three race sponsors and team employers, Harper, McTeague, and DeFontaine. Harper is a pleasant Self-Made Man who allows Will a chance to prove himself but also shows concern for his safety and welfare. McTeague is a rude, callous, cheating miser. DeFontaine doesn't go out of his way to be complimentary or generous toward Will, but lacks any Jerkass moments.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: Will outruns a train at the beginning of the film on a mail run. He then has to cross a bridge during the race after refusing to take a shortcut over a frozen river. Bonus points for him having to free a stuck Gus.
  • Save the Villain: When Will sees Borg being attacked by his own team, the former saves the latter by firing his pistol just to scare the vicious dogs away.
  • Scenery Porn: Ladies and gentlemen, enjoy frozen Canada.
  • Self-Made Man: It is implied Railroad Baron Harper was once poor, based on a speech he makes in Will's favor.
    Harper: Have we come, so far that we've forgotten what it's like to start out with nothing but a dim chance and a bright hope? I will not be the one to snuff that hope, gentlemen. Not I.
  • Sibling Team: Mushers Albert and Gabriel Carey. They are based off of real life mushers Albert and Gabriel Campbell, who competed in the actual 1917 Iditarod, with Albert being the actual person Will Stoneman is based off of.
  • Sled Dogs Through the Snow: The whole plot. It's about a young man undergoing grueling training to win a dog-sled race and take the money home.
  • Training from Hell: From Ned who makes Will work all day and night, sleep in the cold and such to prepare him.
    • The very first thing that Ned does is rouse Will from his sleep in the middle of the night and throws him outside, wearing nothing but his pajamas. Will quickly races to the dog's kennel and sleeps with them, showing that the exercise was to both train him to withstand the cold AND bond with his dogs more.
  • Trauma Button: After losing his dad, Will has no desire to sled through frozen rivers ever again. When some kids offer to show him s shortcut, Will agrees but the moment he sees it involves going through a river he chickens out and decides to use a train bridge to cross... which almost leads to everybody getting run over by a train. At the climax, because it's all or nothing, is when Will finally gets over his fear.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Railroad tycoon Harper doesn't throw his money around, but he has moments of feeling charitable and generous as the race goes on and he watches Will's accomplishments.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Will is a teenager and novice, going against veteran mushers. Naturally he wins.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Vaguely inspired by the 1917 Winnipeg-to-St.Paul-Dog-Race, with Will based on a combination of two or three racers: the young Campbell brothers, especially twenty-five-year-old Albert, whose father had died just two weeks before the race with his final words being an urge to his elder son to win, and twenty-six-year old racer Frederick Hartman, who particularly captured the imaginations of press and public by being a rank underdog who just wouldn't give up and gave the favourites a real run for their money. One aspect of the drama that the film very much leaves out is that there was a decidedly racist angle to some of the support or the latter. The Campbell brothers were part Cree and there was an open desire to see a white competitor, especially one with the kind of plucky pioneering spirit that Hartman represented, prevail and 'prove' white superiority in skill, strength and character. Hartman though was eventually outpaced and finished last - though finishing at all was still impressive and he achieved celebrity for his efforts. Albert Campbell won the race.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: J.W. Harper expresses disappointment in Harry for just seeing Will as a way to sell papers at first, and possibly risking his life.
  • Worthy Opponent: Most of the other Mushers obviously respect Will a great deal. When it looks like Borg is going to attack Will, several other Mushers draw their knives to force him to stand down. After Will wins the race, two literally pick him up and carry him to his mother.