The Iron Claw | Review by: Amanda Guarragi


“I used to be a brother.” 

The Von Erich family was one of the most influential families in professional wrestling. Their technique and showmanship defined an entire decade of wrestling. Straight out of Texas, Fritz Von Erich (Jack Adkisson) had the ambition to become the National Heavyweight Champion. He had won many other belts, but never that one. He passed down his love of wrestling to his six sons, but that came with a price. Their rise to fame came with tragedy. Each time one of the sons stepped in the ring, their fate was sealed because of the family curse. What happened with the Von Erich family is unimaginable. The family name “Von Erich” is now associated with a string of bad luck. The obsession Fritz had with winning ultimately damaged the lives of his sons. The Iron Claw, written and directed by Sean Durkin, is a heart-wrenching and devastating exploration of their family history. Durkin analyzes the toxic masculinity within the Von Erich household and expertly shows the vigour needed to become a professional wrestler. 

Durkin opens the film in the past to show the career of Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany). He chose to use black and white, reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, to highlight a different era of wrestling. The cinematography by Matyas Erdely is stunning as he beautifully composes the arena and the ring as a character. When we first see the boxing ring, it’s full of hopefulness and determination to be the best professional wrestler. At first, Fritz seemed like a wholesome family man who wanted to provide for his family, but his fatherhood turned into something different. After one of his early wins, Fritz is in the car giving this speech about being the best to his wife Doris (Maura Tierney). Durkin places the camera on a young Kevin Von Erich (Grady Wilson), who hangs on his father’s every word. Kevin wants to be the best for him since he has now taken over as the eldest son. Von Erich’s first tragedy was the death of their firstborn son, Jack Jr., which had a lasting effect on Kevin. Durkin shows how childhood trauma and generational cycles can be harmful and also how they can also be broken. 

When Durkin moves to the present day, we see adult Kevin (Zac Efron) getting out of bed. Erdely places the camera on the bed to show Efron’s full-body transformation. His biceps were bulging, his veins were popping out of his skin, and he was in pain. He was a fully formed wrestler like his father, and we see the dynamic between the brothers. David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson) is more of the loudmouth, Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) is the soft-spoken, music-loving brother, and Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White) is the Golden Olympian child with a superiority complex, thinking he is invincible. It’s interesting to see the dynamic between the brothers because instead of respecting their father, they tend to listen to Kevin more. Fritz became their coach and manager, and Kevin has been helping them grow as men. Kevin was more than just a brother to the rest of his siblings, he was the paternal figure in their life. Simple dinner conversations turn into competitions between the brothers because Fritz pits them against each other. Kevin was an empty shell because he wanted to fulfill his father’s dream of becoming the National Heavyweight Champion. He never had any aspirations of his own, and he never had the room to explore other avenues, but he made sure his other brothers did. 

Efron’s performance is the driving force of this film. He was incredibly vulnerable even though he had to appear the strongest out of all of them. Apart from transforming his body, he had to develop a stone-cold exterior while struggling with his broken self on the inside. His dedication and perseverance while embodying this role is unlike anything he has ever done. After losing a brother at a young age, Kevin carried that grief with him. He knew what it meant to be a brother and to look out for another without fully grasping the range of emotions at that time. His father pushed him to be a wrestler, and Kevin had the syndrome of people pleasing. He was controlled by his father and had the fear of disappointing him. After his brothers were of age, Kevin was placed on the back burner because wrestling had become a show. He never had the gift of smack-talking, so his brother David overshadowed him. Fritz then had the idea to do group wrestling to keep the Von Erich name in the ring. Erdely did some wonderful work in the ring when the brothers were wrestling, but more importantly, Durkin placed transitions where the faces of the brothers all blended. This showed that they were interchangeable with Fritz. And it then faded into Kevin, who was the last one standing. This sequence showed that Kevin was happy to be with his brothers but lost the enjoyment of wrestling. 

Once he met Pam (Lily James) outside the arena one evening, his life changed. His whole perspective of his family did. He realized no one had ever asked him about what he wanted in life or asked how he was doing. Pam reached into his heart and opened him up emotionally. We then see Kevin go on his broken journey to make himself whole again. He questions how long he could continue to fight and put his body through this pain. What was he even fighting for? The bad luck began when Kevin fought for the heavyweight title, where he almost broke his back. After that, David became the star of the family. However, he couldn’t handle the rise to fame and the pressure from his father as well as Kevin. David resorted to drugs and abused them regularly. Kerry was gearing up for the Olympics when the Cold War started, and he returned home because no one was going to Russia. Kerry was then the silent killer in the ring, and the three brothers flourished together. The feeling of dread was cast over every scene as Kevin saw his brothers change drastically. He felt protected at home with Pam and his newborn son, who he used his father’s original last name instead of Von Erich. That moment symbolizes the break in the cycle of generational trauma, and he hopes to be a better father to his children. 

What unfolds in the third act of this film is devastating. Durkin takes his time with each of the brothers by showing their connection with Fritz and Kevin. Kevin wanted to help his brothers get out of this cycle, and it pained him to see them try so hard to fulfill their father’s dream. Each time he brought a brother into the ring, it would set a chain of events that affected the entire family. One by one, the brothers lost their way because of their father’s legacy, and it became impossible for Kevin to help any of them. With each death, Kevin lost a piece of himself and knew he had to detach himself from his father. The way Durkin navigated each of the brother’s deaths was tender and powerful. The moments shared between Kevin and each of them were the grounding force of this film, and that’s why Efron carried it. The viewer has an attachment to Kevin, which makes them have that attachment to the brothers. The Iron Claw is an incredible sports drama with one of the most tragic stories imaginable. This ensemble worked together effortlessly and created a strong Von Erich bond. The final moments of this film perfectly highlight the toxic masculinity that plagues the wrestling world. It has one of the most beautiful endings of the year. 


Review by: Amanda Guarragi 

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