Film Review: The Iron Claw

Words: George White
Monday 12 February 2024
reading time: min, words

The Iron Claw will pin you into emotional submission despite its weak script…

The Iron Claw Hug

The Iron Claw breaks the mold: usually, a great drama is built on a great script, but this true tale of the Von Erichs – who overcame the odds to become one of the most successful families in the world of wrestling – deals a knockout blow without this vital component.

Largely following Zac Efron’s Kevin Von Erich, who, along with his three brothers, David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike (Stanley Simons), are encouraged (forced) into fulfilling their father Fritz’s (Holt McCallany) legacy by bringing home the world wrestling title, this is a tale of tragedy that sticks with you long after the final bell rings.

In many ways, though, it is such a heartbreaking story that it almost couldn’t fail to hit hard: the biography of the Von Erichs, and the ‘curse’ that plagued them across several painful years, it’s a powerful study of male mental health, of struggling with the weight of expectation, of buckling under the pressure of trying to become the very best and showing no weakness in the process. 

At the centre of it all is Fritz, very much the villain of the piece, the embodiment of toxic masculinity that haunts every frame, that watches over the brothers almost like a god, ensuring they never stray too far from the path he has hand-crafted for them. In many ways, The Iron Claw plays out like a horror: the threat of Fritz’s disappointment, the fear of more cutting remarks, with the risk of triggering the wrath of his disappointment is gnawing away in the hearts and minds of those on screen.

The cast as a whole deserve great credit for bringing this horror to life

The cast as a whole deserve great credit for bringing this horror to life, fully selling the strain the father’s pursuit of success puts on them – but underpinning it all with genuine familial love, and a believable brotherly bond that has you rooting for their success and reeling at their heartbreak. McCallany builds an all-timer of an antagonist, but each of the Von Erich brothers is a star in their own way: Dickinson is delightfully charming as David; White is raw and combative as Kerry; Simons will crush you with his innocence and purity.

Yet it is Efron who is rightly winning the loudest applause, and understandably so. Shifting away from the slapstick-esque comedies that defined most of his post-Disney Channel career; the 36-year-old is phenomenal here channelling naivety, wit, leadership and a complete lack of strength. It’s a deeply layered performance, and one that will hopefully set him up for more meaty roles in the future. 

This line-up elevates what is ultimately some pretty poor source material. On-the-nose talks of the ‘Von Erich curse’, clumsy lines of heart-to-heart dialogue that wouldn’t feel out of place in a soap opera – there’s a constant threat this story could be derailed. 

But Efron and co take what they’re given and milk it for all it’s worth, and, to Durkin’s credit, he and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély package it up gorgeously. Each frame is a work of art, the sport scenes hit with full force, and the director gives the heaviest moments plenty of time to breathe. That is certainly worthy of praise.

While this perhaps doesn’t deserve a full claw of a review (that’s the equivalent of five stars, for those struggling with this slightly cringeworthy analogy), then, it remains a stunning story that will suplex you emotion and have you in a headlock with the absorbing chemistry between its brothers – and with that, we’ll tap out of this increasingly unruly review.

The Iron Claw is now showing at Broadway Cinema.

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