Published On: Tue, Dec 12th, 2023

Movie Review: ‘The Iron Claw’

Movie Review: ‘The Iron Claw’
Movie Review: ‘The Iron Claw’


Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, and Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, and Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

In theaters on December 22nd, ‘The Iron Claw’ is the new film from Sean Durkin, who previously made 2011’s ‘Martha Marcy May Marlene’ and ‘The Nest’ which was released in 2020.

This is by some margin his best film so far, getting to grips with a shocking true life story that will be intimately familiar to wrestling and sports fans, but is something to discover for everyone else.

Anchored by a great performance from Zac Efron, ‘The Iron Claw’ is surely destined to enter the awards race.

Does ‘The Iron Claw’ grip you?

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(Right) Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

Though it could potentially fall victim to those who see it as a Wikipedia entry snapshot of history for the Von Erich brothers and their seemingly cursed household, this is in fact a dramatic and –– because of the subject matter –– sometimes traumatic tale of a wrestling dynasty whose life was marked by a blend of success and (there’s no way to really get around it) suicide and other tragic deaths.

But while the subject matter is challenging (and heartrending at times), it’s delivered with such grace and style that it’s easy appreciate the lengths to which Durkin and his team go to sensitively depict the tale. And to applaud him for rounding up some of the best young actors of the moment to bring the brothers to life. Even if you’re not a wrestling fan, there’s a good chance you’ll be transfixed by this one, which has real power and energy, grit and an eye for the detail of the time.

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‘The Iron Claw’: Script and Direction

Zac Efron and director Sean Durkin on the set of 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Zac Efron and director Sean Durkin on the set of ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

By keeping the focus on the family, Durkin’s screenplay is able to dig out real feeling and drama from the story, especially in how the patriarch, Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) channels his frustrations with his own career through his sons.

And while the focus is on Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron), there is ample opportunity for the other characters to shine, mapping out the details with care and humanity.

On the directing side of things, he evokes the 1980s aesthetic with a grimy reality, and you can feel the sweat dripping off the screen in close-up as the brothers ply their trade. And, like the script, it’s the little details that matter –– from the family’s home that quickly gives you an insight into their parents (sports memorabilia and guns for the father, religious iconography for the mother, played by Maura Tierney).

Maura Tierney as Doris Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich and Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Maura Tierney as Doris Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, Stanley Simons as Mike Von Erich, Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich and Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

Durkin’s keen eye for performance allows his cast to make the most of naturalistic roles and characters that let them impress without ever feeling showy (except when needed in the ring). The evocation of the world of 1980s wrestling at levels lower than the World Wrestling Federation (as it was then) is utterly convincing.

If there’s one moment that pushes things too far, it’s a fantastical moment towards the end which features several deceased family members meeting up in an idyllic river/dock take on the River Styx (even down to one leaving coins on the boat). In contrast to the stark reality of the rest of the movie, this stab at framing the story as a Greek tragedy is one that doesn’t ring as true as the rest.

‘The Iron Claw’: Performances

Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich and Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich, Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich and Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

There was a time when the phrase “Zac Efron: potential Oscar contender” might have sounded ludicrous. But with ‘The Iron Claw’, he shows that the work he’s been putting in of late has been paying off. As Kevin Von Erich, the steely-eyed anchor for the brothers in the family, he’s a revelation; swole as a He-Man action figure, but never more human than he is here.

Kevin is a role ripe for any actor to tackle, a dedicated brother who sees his career ambitions shrink due to bad fortunes and the capricious nature of his father’s focus. He is, by turns, delighted, proud, angry, bitter and utterly devastated.

It certainly helps that Kevin (the only survivor among the brothers) is a completely compelling character whose relationship with his brothers moves the story along and gives it emotional focus. He’s helped in that endeavor by Lily James as his wife Pam. Though James only has a few scenes to make a mark, she plays them to the hilt, striking in both moments of joy and sadness.

Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

Yet though it is mostly certainly Efron’s film, everyone in the movie offers up a fantastic performance. Chief among them are the brothers –– Jeremy Allen White, who has been receiving the best notices of his career for TV’s ‘The Bear’ is watchable as the athletic Kerry, who has no wrestling ambitions at first, but is pressed into service by their father and ends up more successful than Kevin. He suffers brutally at the fickle hand of fate, and White does a lot with the part.

Elsewhere, we have Harrison Dickinson and Stanley Simons, the former putting in another superb turn and the latter a real discovery having mostly acted in shorts and smaller indies.

And the twin forces pulling at the family from above –– McCallany all steel and spit as the father, while Tierney finds moments of quiet in which to truly bring Doris Von Erich to life.

‘The Iron Claw’: Final Thoughts

Lily James as Pam Adkisson and Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Lily James as Pam Adkisson and Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

Carefully walking the line between punishing history film and believably emotional family drama, ‘The Iron Claw’ is a triumph in itself. A minor misstep here and there and some trims to the actual story (hard as it might be to believe if you don’t know the history, there was yet another brother who killed themselves) are no barrier to this being one of the more impressive movies of the year.

You don’t need to know a thing about the wrestling world to appreciate the care and artistry, or to feel for a family group torn apart by a truly heartbreaking run of bad luck.

‘The Iron Claw’ receives 9 out of 10 stars.

“Sons. Brothers. Champions.”

R2 hr 12 minNov 8th, 2023

Showtimes & Tickets

The true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s. Through tragedy… Read the Plot

What’s the story of ‘The Iron Claw’?

‘The Iron Claw’ is inspired by the true story of the inseparable Von Erich brothers, who made history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s.

Through tragedy and triumph, under the shadow of their domineering father and coach (Holt McCallany), the brothers seek larger-than-life immortality on the biggest stage in sports.

Who else is in ‘The Iron Claw?

The cast for the film includes Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, Maura Tierney and Lily James.

Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich and Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in 'The Iron Claw.'

(L to R) Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, Holt McCallany as Fritz Von Erich, Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich and Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in ‘The Iron Claw.’ Photo: A24.

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