The Iron Claw

“Now, we all know Kerry's my favorite, then Kev, then David, then Mike. But the rankings can always change.”

That’s Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany, TV’s Mindhunter) ranking his sons in The Iron Claw, the new film from A24 about the Von Erich family of professional wrestling. It’s worth pointing out that he wasn’t engaged in a private conversation with wife Doris (Maura Tierney, Beautiful Boy) when announcing his progenital pecking order. Nope. He was speaking directly to his sons! And that’s just one example of the family dysfunction on display in The Iron Claw.

"pays huge dividends with its profound emotional impact"


Speaking of poor parenting, that’s just one of the many poisonous themes explored in the film which opens as we meet Fritz’s sons, Kevin (Zac Efron, High School Musical), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White, TV’s Shameless) David (Harris Dickinson, Where the Crawdads Sing), and Mike (Stanley Simons, TV’s Law & Order: Special Victims Unit) who are resigned to follow in their father’s footsteps in the family’s wrestling business after the wrestling brothers learn of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow summer Olympics in 1980.

Wrestling out of the world famous Sportatorium in Dallas, Texas during the ‘80s, the Von Erich boys were a tight-knit band of brothers held together by the fear of their father rather than by the love of the sport. Unquestionably overbearing yet a master showman, Fritz formed a wrestling empire out of his own dream, with Kevin having held the WCWA World Heavyweight Championship at one time. And sadly, The Iron Claw shows us the steep price the family paid for its success.

Yet the family’s successes are tempered by tragedy after tragedy, which Kevin blames on a “family curse.” If you’re familiar with what happened to the real Von Erich family, you might agree with Kevin, as it’s difficult to comprehend one family enduring so much adversity. If you aren’t familiar, we won’t spoil it here. Let’s just say: the real life story of the Von Erich family is so tragic, writer/director Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) felt he needed to tone it down for the film, otherwise, it wouldn’t seem realistic.The Iron Claw

At its base level, The Iron Claw (named after a particularly menacing claw-like wrestling hold father Fritz developed) is a father/son tale with an unrecognizable yet convincing Efron (he’s bulked up and sporting a mullet wig) in the lead role, who delivers his career best performance. As the father figure, McCallany’s Fritz embodies the antagonist in this tale, seeing wrestling not just as a sport but as a metaphor for life itself. His portrayal delves into the darker aspects of toxic masculinity, making him a formidable adversary and the driving force behind the film's conflict. He’s the bad guy, the bully. And sadly, his family never realizes it, until it’s too late.

Durkin's adept direction is evident throughout the film, as he creates an electrifying atmosphere that is both intense and emotionally resonant. His script seamlessly blends the physicality of the wrestling world with the internal struggles of his characters. The Iron Claw is a devastatingly tough watch, but one that pays huge dividends with its profound emotional impact.

Yes, The Iron Claw is a sports movie, but one that manages to transcend the boundaries of the genre by delivering a thought-provoking and emotionally charged experience to counter the hard-hitting brutality of the sport. With its stellar performances, deft direction, and exploration of some pretty dark themes, it delivers a crushing pile driver to the gut.

4/5 stars

Film Details

The Iron Claw

MPAA Rating: R.
Runtime:
130 mins
Director
: Sean Durkin
Writer:
Sean Durkin
Cast:
Zac Efron; Jeremy Allen White; Harris Dickinson
Genre
: Sports | Drama
Tagline:
Sons. Brothers. Champions.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Tonight, I walk with my brothers."
Theatrical Distributor:
A24
Official Site:
Release Date:
December 22, 2023
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:

Synopsis: The true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s.

Art

The Iron Claw