Directed by: Sean Durkin
Premise: Based on true events. In the 1970s and 80s Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) raises his sons to be professional wrestlers. They run the Texas professional wrestling market but struggle to break into the national market.
What Works: Prior to the mid-1980s professional wrestling was largely a regional sport with various organizations running their own local markets. Those regional organizations were bought out and nationalized by the World Wrestling Federation which is known today as the WWE. The Iron Claw is set a few years before that consolidation and tells the story of the Von Erich family who had considerable success in their Texas market but generally remained just outside the national spotlight. The story primarily unfolds from the point of view of Kevin Von Erich. Of the Von Erich brothers, Kevin is most fully invested in wrestling and he has a family of his own but Kevin is haunted by the tragedies that keep befalling his brothers and by the overbearing presence of his father. The Iron Claw isn’t so much about wrestling as it is about a family business and a study of masculinity. The Von Erich family is presented vividly in this film. Each son has a distinct identity and there is a powerful sense of loyalty and love between the siblings and an equally powerful fear of their father who is a domineering stage parent. His affections are conditional on their performance. This detail makes for effective storytelling because it puts so much more at stake in each wrestling match. The best sports films often use athleticism to examine other ideas and The Iron Claw is about legacy and manhood. The film possesses an interesting contrast between the violence of the wrestling ring and the warmth of the brotherly bonds; Kevin in particular tries to break out of his father’s toxic mold which he and the audience can see is destroying the family. The Iron Claw has some extraordinary performances. Zac Efron is a revelation as Kevin Von Erich. He disappears into the role and although Kevin is not a brilliant guy there is a goodness and a subtle self-awareness about the character that is engaging and heartbreaking. Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson are also impressive as Kerry and David Von Erich, respectively, and Holt McCallany is fearsome as their father Fritz.
What Doesn’t: The Iron Claw is a period piece set in the late 1970s and early 80s. The costumes and sets recreate that era very well but the one weak point is the musical selections. The songs featured in The Iron Claw feel like generic cuts from this period. The story takes place in Texas but there isn’t much local flavor to the soundtrack.
Bottom Line: The Iron Claw is an impressive sports and show business tale. It has the grittiness and violence of a wrestling picture but a human warmth and a sense of pathos and tragedy that transcend its subject matter.
Episode: #981 (January 21, 2024)