The Iron Claw
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A biopic about the wild rise and fall of the Von Erich family, who became famous as much for their early 80s wrestling fame as for the heartbreaking series of tragedies that befell the brothers.
Zac Efron (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile), Jeremy Allen White (The Bear), and Lily James (Pam and Tommy) lead the cast.
We’re all aware that wrestling is scripted (and if you weren’t before, you are now!), with wrestlers “calling their spots,” essentially choreographing the match. As a young wrestling fan, I first encountered the Von Erich Family when I mistakenly identified Kerry Von Erich as “The Ultimate Warrior.” Sculpted like a Greek god, his agile moves and imposing figure left a lasting impression, so much so that I remember digging into his story.
It can be hard to process that actual tragedy is part of any wrestler’s story, given all the acting they do. So when I heard about The Iron Claw, I had to see it, maybe just to understand if it all really happened.
The film opens with a wrestling match featuring the family patriarch, Fritz (Holt McCallany), filmed in monochromatic tones of gray, black, and white to capture the old-school, rugged style of a bygone era. As the story unfolds, the pace intensifies along with the wrestling styles — swift, high-flying maneuvers executed in cowboy costumes and flamboyant robes. As the film takes us through the 80s, it transitions into a more vivid color palette as we see the sport and its characters transform. Even the new stage lights become more intense, causing the athletes to sweat even more.
Efron, as Kevin Von Erich, emerges as the standout, skillfully embodying the passion and work ethic of the eldest brother while mirroring his shredded physique and distinctive gait. He portrays Kevin as the real deal, heavily invested in the well-being of his siblings, not just his own success.
As younger brother Kerry Von Erich, Jeremy White oozes his charisma right along with his tough posturing. A larger-than-life personality who also happened to be 6’3″, White captures the full presence of Kerry, despite being under 6 feet tall.
The actors trained with former WWE wrestler Chavo Guerroro Jr., who mentioned during an Iron Claw premiere that each actor took their training seriously, and if given more time, would be ready for a real match. As a wrestling fan, I can attest to how well they executed the physically challenging moves, bringing these phenoms to life as realistically as possible.
My favorite scenes were the close-up moments, where you could feel the intensity of each punishing move on the mat, with the sound adding to the sensation of being at a live event. Slammed to the ground, Efron’s visceral reactions hurt, and its hard to believe he didn’t sustain any injuries.
Yet throughout the film, the director’s perspective presented to the audience avoids any indication that the outcome is predetermined, which is important for maintaining the illusion — for movie goers and wrestling fans. Even if, like me, you know the story of the Von Erichs, you won’t actually know what’s coming, and that’s a good thing.
A moving and nostalgic homage to the sport of wrestling and one of its most beloved families, Iron Claw will fully immerse you into an era and a world that many misunderstand, ultimately telling a story about the potency of a family’s bonds.
Wrestling fans, both old and new, as there is something in the story for everyone. Just be prepared to have your heart broken by the end.
Kevin Von Erich bestowed his seal of approval upon the film and on Efron’s portrayal.
If you’re a wrestling fan, you’ll enjoy seeing legends Rick Flair and Iron Sheik portrayed by actors and former wrestlers.