‘The Iron Claw’ Review

Oppressive bleakness: the movie

By the time the 20th or so tragedy befalls the Von Erich family of wrestlers in The Iron Claw from director/writer Sean Durkin (The Nest), the law of diminishing returns kicks in and the whole thing starts to feel almost silly.

Make no mistake—Durkin’s A24-produced film is based on the real events surrounding one of the families with the greatest dynasties in professional wrestling history, and all these events totally happened. It’s just that someplace between the melodramatic music flaring over yet another death and Zac Efron’s robotic performance as eldest son Kevin Von Erich, it becomes harder and harder to grasp at empathy or sympathy.

Does that sound heartless? If it does, that’s only because the movie made me that way. To hear Durkin tell it, the Von Erichs, spurred by a self-fulfilling prophetic belief in a family curse, rarely experienced even the slightest shred of happiness or, if they did, it was only in segue to the next terrible thing. In short, it’s a film about fatherly and brotherly pressures wherein Efron leads a cast of forgettable actors through the motions of life. See, way back in the 1980s, the Von Erichs were huge in the wrestling world, but Durkin posits that hard-headed patriarch Fritz (Holt McCallany) doled out so much pressure on his four kids that depression and death were always soon to follow.

Not even Jeremy Allen White (The Bear, Shameless) can save this film from its own heavy-handedness, particularly since it all but confirms he’s got about one acting trick up his sleeve—barely restrained pissed-offedness. Against Efron’s caveman-style wig and barely-there turns from lesser-known actors like Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness) and Stanley Simons (also in bad wigs), the bigger-name actors flail; Durkin’s stilted yet endless dialogue about winning and being the best doesn’t help, nor does his insistence on underusing Baby Driver’s Lily James as Kevin’s wife and the tragically under-appreciated Maura Tierney (News Radio) as the Von Erich’s God-fearing mama who really doesn’t want to get involved with any of it.

The Iron Claw isn’t all bad, though. Foe cinematographer Mátyás Erdély shoots a beautiful film and the writing impresses in some smaller moments—the fallout from Jimmy Carter boycotting the Olympics, for example, which led Von Erich sibling Kerry (White) to lose out on his big discus dreams; or a clever explanation of pro wrestling that diffuses concerns over its scripted nature by explaining how rising in the ranks works similarly to performance-based promotions in any business.

But events happen too quickly for an audience to properly digest them. If you’re processing one character’s death for mere moments before another faces his end, when do you have time to care? As it turns out, you never have the time. Maybe this one’s for the wrestling fans, but even those who love dramatic films might struggle to understand the point of it all.


+Erdély’s eye; the feel of the ‘70s and ‘80s

-Ham-fisted performances all-around; pacing issues

The Iron Claw

Directed by Durkin

With Efron, White, Dickinson, Simons, McCallany, James and Tierney

Violet Crown, R, 132 min.

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