A24 has produced yet another compelling film – reigniting hopes of more indie projects receiving mainstream recognition
Story: The film narrates the tragic true story of the Von Erich wrestling family. The four Von Erich brothers are trained by their father Fritz to become the best wrestlers in the world. Their time at the top is short-lived as tragedy after tragedy tears apart the family.
Review: The year 2024 could become the most pivotal year in wrestling history in the 21st century – for several reasons both good and bad. The big hitters of the industry, such as the WWE, are reportedly raking in record revenue, but on the other hand, Vince McMahon, WWE’s former head honcho for nearly 40 years, is embroiled in a major sex scandal. It is almost poetic that The Iron Claw, a film about an iconic wrestling family is released around the same time when WWE’s current major storyline revolves around another legendary wrestling family – the Anoaʻi family. Apart from one Von Erich brother (Kerry), none of the others were ever part of the WWE/WWF, but the Von Erich family were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009. This gesture by the biggest wrestling promotion in the world further reinforces the legacy of the Von Erichs as one the greatest wrestling families of all time.
Director Sean Durkin has veered away from glorifying the achievements of the Von Erichs. Instead, the narrative takes a more nuanced exploration of their success, focusing on the cost of climbing the unforgiving ladder of professional wrestling. In their pursuit of glory, the family lost four members – three to suicide and one to entritis. The filmmakers have cut Chris Von Erich from the film, who is one of the three brothers who died from suicide. The story puts Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) at the centre of its narrative, and he is the only surviving member of the Von Erich brothers – sons of Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany). Through the tragic tale of the Von Erich brothers the film serves as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of how parental discipline and the unrelenting quest to become a top wrestling star is a dangerous combination.
The story also sheds light on the cut-throat business of professional wrestling through Fritz’s promotion, the World Class Championship Wrestling, and their pursuit of the NWA titles. As the plot progresses the film carefully examines how the death of each Von Erich brother may have played a contributing factor to the unfortunate demise of the others. The narrative is primarily told through Zac Efron’s Kevin Von Erich, and Efron is able to bring out the inner turmoil as the oldest, currently the only surviving, Von Erich brother. Efron’s powerful performance perfectly balances the vulnerability of Kevin and his efforts to stay strong for his family. The Bear star Jeremy Allen White, who plays Kerry Von Erich, is also excellent as the younger Von Erich. However, Allen White would have benefited from more screen time to thoroughly flesh out his character. Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons also deliver great performances in their roles as the brothers David and Mike. Whereas Lily James plays her role as the level-headed wife of Kevin, Pam, to near perfection. And it is also quite evident why veterans Holt McCallany and Maura Tierney are revered as among the best in the business. McCallany perfectly captures the essence of Fritz’s all-consuming desire to transform his sons into ‘the strongest, the toughest, and the most successful’. The scene after David’s funeral where Fritz asks Kevin and Kerry to decide who will replace David to be the number one contender for Ric Flair's World title is a sneak peek into Fritz's uncompromising attitude towards the business.
The one aspect of the film that may have faltered is the casting of WWE legend Ric Flair. While Aaron Dean Eisenberg is commendable in his role as the “stylin and profolin” Nature Boy Rick Flair, he may have been miscast. The Iron Claw is ultimately not a celebration of wrestling but a discourse on the effect it has on those who compete inside the squared circle. The Von Erichs might be placed on the same pedestal as the Hart family (Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Natalya) or the Anoaʻi family (Dwayne 'The Rock’ Johnson, Roman Reigns, Rikishi), but their legacy will always remain defined by tragedy.
Verdict: The Iron Claw is a heartbreaking dramatisation of a family that endured inconceivable pain and suffering. The film features powerful performances by its excellent cast, led by Zac Efron. The narrative also explores the toll of physical and mental turmoil the wrestling business demands from its stars.