'The Iron Claw' Review
December 18, 2023
One of the most surprising things about The Iron Claw is how unbelievable this true story feels. Six brothers were born from Fritz and Doris Von Erich: Jack Jr., Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike, and Chris. Five of them would die before their 35th birthday, with Kevin being the only surviving member of that generation. Each of them was relentlessly driven to dominate the wrestling scene in the 1980s, and almost all of them did. They were a force to be reckoned with, just as fortunate in the ring as they were unfortunate outside of it.
All of this starts with Fritz (real name Jack Barton Adkisson Sr.) as he’s greeted by his wife and two young sons outside the wrestling arena he just performed at. He tells his kids that nothing will ever stop them if they are fully dedicated to their craft, and tells his wife that winning the world championship will solve everything for them. It’s immediately clear that this will never be the case; as winning the belt won’t quench his undeniable thirst for more, and never getting it will send him into a downward spiral of self-destruction. But everyone believes what he says, especially Kevin (Zac Efron), who sees himself as the family’s best opportunity to rise to the top of wrestling history.
But while Fritz is all pent-up rage and overt masculinity, Kevin and his brothers are more open and caring thanks to their ability to lean on each other. Efron, Jeremy Allen White (Kerry), Harris Dickinson (David), and Stanley Simons (Mike) produce one of the best ensembles of the year. Even though their dad openly admits which sons are his favorite and always expects them to compete for his favor, the brothers are always there to lend a hand and play off each other. Efron is a golden god, an almost dead ringer for Alexander the Great as he struts around the ring with his perfectly bronzed muscles and bleach-blonde hair. Dickinson is the more outgoing brother, the one who serves as the mouthpiece during the more theatrical moments of the bouts. White is probably the most athletically gifted of the group, while Simons’ brother is the least qualified and interested for the ring.
Writer/director Sean Durkin finds both the light and (incredible) darkness in this tale of an American dynasty. Any and all semblances of happiness have been a foreign concept to Durkin throughout his first two features of Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest. Even a scene such as the wedding between Kevin and Pam (Lily James) is tinged with the haunting seeds of what’s to come. And once the gates open, there’s no stopping the flood waters. The guide to this story is Kevin as he often unfairly finds himself sidelined to his brother’s successes, and has to endure the unimaginable pain of seeing them go away one by one.
But that isn't to say this story is solely a one-way trip of depression. There are intermittent stops to bask in the glory of this era for wrestling. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély keeps things tight and unbroken as he and Durkin show off the physicality needed by these gladiators. It might all be for show but nothing about what is required is fake, with intermittent moments of unbearable pain and agony.
Almost everyone knows that achieving your dreams isn’t just based on being the toughest, fastest, or strongest. There is such a thing as luck, or a curse in the case of the Von Erichs. Fritz was blind to that fact, which Durkin taps to uncover this tragic story of nature and nurture. At the end of the day, the Von Erich name has been etched in the history books, but not fully the way they intended.