The story of the Von Erich family of professional wrestling is told in The Iron Claw. Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simons) are the sons of legendary Texa wrestler-turned-promotor Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany). Kevin wrestles for his father's World Class Championship Wrestling promotion, where he is soon joined by David and Kerry, with Mike preferring to pursue a music career. The brothers enjoy huge success in the ring, but soon begin to fall to personal demons and the pressure to succeed.
The Iron Claw Synopsis
The Iron Claw is a professional wrestling biopic written and directed by Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Nest), based on the true and tragic story of the Von Erich family and named after their signature Iron Claw submission hold. The form is told from the point of view of Fritz Von Erich's oldest son, Kevin, played by Zack Efron, who has come to believe stories that his family is cursed ever since changing their surname from Adkisson to Von Erich, and already experienced the loss of his older brother as a child. Kevin meets and falls in love with Pam (Lilly James) and he often has trouble balancing his family life with the pressures put on by his father to be a success in the wrestling world.
While Kevin is Fritz's initial pick to fight for the NWA World Championship, David and Kerry get chosen for opportunities first. Then the family is struck by one tragedy after another, making Kevin believe that the family curse might be a real thing. This affects his wrestling career and his life with Pam.
My Thoughts on The Iron Claw
There have been a handful of films about professional wrestling over the years, whether it be Darren Aronofsky's completely fictional, yet highly acclaimed 2008 drama The Wrestler, about a washed-up star holding on to his glory days, or the 2019 biopic Fighting with My Family about Saraya “Paige” Knight. The Iron Claw is a film that tries to adhere closer to the former, as it takes a serious and dramatic approach to telling the story of the Von Erich family. The Von Erichs are one of the most tragic stories in professional wrestling, previously being the subject of one of the most devastating episodes of the documentary series Dark Side of the Ring.
The audience's reaction to The Iron Claw is heavily based on how familiar they are with the true story. As a lifelong wrestling fan, who once saw “The Texas Tornado” Kerry Von Erich wrestle at a WWF show in 1991, I am familiar enough with the story that I couldn't help but nitpick some of the inaccuracies. Probably the most glaring is the complete removal of the fifth brother Chris Van Erich from the story since his arch was reportedly too similar to that of Mike, depicted in the film as the black sheep of the family.
Those not familiar with the story beforehand are likely way more devastated by the level of tragedy that falls upon the Von Erich family, much of which is piled on throughout the second half of The Iron Claw. It almost seems because of this that director Sean Durkin felt the need to shoehorn in some sentimentality. This includes a dream sequence towards the end that does not feel quite right, given the context.
Zac Effron, Jeremy Allen White (The Bear, Fingernails), and Harris Dickenson (Triangle of Sadness) give fine enough performances as Kevin, Kerry, and David Von Erich respectively, who all perform their wrestling moves in the film, thanks to training by wrestling consultant Chavo Guerrero Jr., who also appears in the film as The Sheik. The Iron Claw features fictionalized depictions of several classic wrestlers from the 1970s and 1980s, including Bruiser Brody (Cazzey Louis Cereghino), Gino Hernandez (Ryan Nemeth), Harley Race (Kevin Anton), and Michael Hayes (Brady Pierce). Sadly, the most horrendous depiction in the film goes to Aaron Dean Eisenberg as legendary NWA World Champion Ric Flair, a portrayal so bad that it took me completely out of the film.
Despite my nitpicks and criticisms, I would ultimately say that I am positive about The Iron Claw. The film doesn't treat professional wrestling as a joke and this is instead a very serious drama about one of professional wrestling's biggest tragedies.