by Liam Trump ’24
Director and screenwriter Sean Durkin’s The Iron Claw follows the true story of the legendary Von Erich family as they set their sights on the NWA (National Wrestling Association) World Heavyweight Championship. The Von Erichs were a inter-generational wrestling dynasty who suffered tragedy after tragedy, all under the leadership of the former NWA star, Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany). After his own shortcomings in the ring, Fritz is dead set to have one of his sons carry the Heavyweight title.
The story centers on Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) as he tries to live up to his father’s aspirations for his career in professional wrestling. Eventually, he’s joined in the ring by his brothers, comprising of the charismatic David (Harris Dickinson), the hot-headed Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) whose dreams of Olympic level glory were cut short by the U.S. boycott of the 1980 games in the Soviet Union, and his more artistic younger brother Mike (Stanley Simons). While the Von Erich brothers are given lots of characterization, their father Fritz comes across as mostly one-note, with very little nuance found in his motivations.
The actual wrestling sequences are very well shot, with a big emphasis on the eye-popping reds and blues of the 1970s and 1980s. The sound design immerses viewers, letting them feel every impact in and out of the ring. The intensity of these scenes reflects upon the significance of professional wrestling in their lives; how it essentially gives them a way to live up to their father’s high expectations.
But the heart of the story is that of perseverance through adversity. The multiple tragedies that the Von Erich family go through–one after the other–weighs heavily on the surviving members, especially Kevin. But a by-product of giving little breathing room between each event causes the latter half of the film to feel rushed, even if it does highlight the bond Kevin had with his brothers.
Efron, throughout the film, absolutely nails his character of Kevin, showing audiences he has a far wider range than the High School Musical trilogy might have led people to believe. The physical transformation he went through is impressive to say the least, but what’s more important is how he conveys how loss can affect someone who doesn’t want to express his emotions … how, other than for his father’s approval, even he doesn’t know why he’s fighting so hard for the title.
Underneath the flashy set design and energetic soundtrack is a heartbreaking tale of brotherhood and hardship. While there were some shallowly written characters and some of the pacing was inconsistent, The Iron Claw hits it home when it comes to giving a devastating portrayal of the Von Erich’s legacy.