PG Score: 8.5/10
The Iron Claw was released in theaters on 12/22/23
Bring your tissues, this one is going to hurt. I’ve been a fan of wrestling for as long as I have had memories. I knew of the story of the Von Erichs coming in (SPOILERS AHEAD). Heck, I cheered for the Texas Tornado as a kid watching WWF Saturday mornings. I was not prepared. There have been all manner of wrestling films over the years, from the ridiculous to the Oscar-worthy. It is safe to say The Iron Claw is not Ready to Rumble (2000) or No Holds Barred (1989). It joins an elite class, and while it is far more than just a wrestling movie, it just might be the best one we have seen.
Layers of The Iron Claw
More than a wrestling movie, The Iron Claw is a tribute to a legendary family that suffered tragedy after tragedy. It's about brotherhood, love, and trying to meet the giant expectations of a legendary father who put an even heavier weight on the young men, who were already in the brightest of spotlights and didn't want to disappoint their family. Hands down Zac Efron’s (Neighbors) best performance to date.
The tragic story of the Von Erich family will give you all the feels. Emotional and moving, you truly feel the pain Efron portrays in Kevin Von Erich as he keeps losing brothers. There is happiness and laughter as we get to enjoy the brothers together, but that only leaves you feeling the open wound with each loss. The cast was phenomenal. Efron we touched upon as the lead, but like a wrestling match, it’s all about who you are working with and everyone brought their A-game. Like in wrestling, the better the chemistry, the better the story. The three leads worked a 5-star match.
Jeremy Allen White (The Bear) may not have had the physical presence of real-life Kerry Von Erich, but he brought the intensity. The most famous of the brothers, White had large shoes to fill and didn’t disappoint. Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness) was exceptional in his role as well. All three leads came across as believable in their love for one another. Each death was a burden that you could physically see weighing down the actors. Dickinson was extremely likable and it is his character’s death that leaves us reeling. Holt McCallany (Fight Club) has had a long career, but this film is by far his most notable performance. Portraying the patriarch of the family, he captured the intensity and epic character that Fritz Von Erich was. Lily James (Baby Driver) is great in everything she does and this was no different. She represented a grounding factor in that larger-than-life world, especially for Efron’s Kevin Von Erich, which is probably a large reason why he survived.
Maura Tierney (ER) is amazing. Never mind that I have had a crush on her since her NewsRadio days. She plays the matriarch of the film in Doris Von Erich. She had a difficult role of capturing someone who loved her family, yet was emotionally distant from her sons as well, forcing them to rely on each other.
The soundtrack was a banger and kept the film moving. It did a great job of capturing the era and mood of the film. Eerily, there is a song sung by Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) with the lyrics, “live that way forever.” It’s a high point of happiness in the film, but the foreshadowing of knowing how things were going to end makes that song bittersweet, as the lyrics are a fading dream for our characters. A24 has been killing it this year and The Iron Claw may just be their crown jewel. Excellently coordinated, the wrestling action looked like it was being done by pros. Shoutout to Chavo Guerrero, who played The Sheik.
I really only have one complaint about the film and that was the casting of Ric Flair. Flair is a character unto himself and this performance was just a caricature of a character. For non-wrestling fans it might not be noticeable, but for any fan of wrestling, it was very off-putting. They did Ric Flair dirty and those few scenes he was in took me out of the film for a bit. Casting-wise, Jeremy Allen White was great. He's a solid actor and he was in tremendous shape, but Kerry Von Erich was a large man and White didn’t quite measure up. Ha, get it? For a 132-minute run time though, one or two complaints is not so bad.
One of 2023's Best
Easily one of my top five favorite films of the year. Great story and amazing chemistry, The Iron Claw pulls at your heartstrings and has you hooked throughout. Are awards in the future? It wouldn't surprise me, but I would be content with some nominations. Wrestling fan or not, you will enjoy this film. Compelling and moving, The Iron Claw is one to watch.