"The Iron Claw" is in theaters now. (Photo Credit: A24)
The Iron Claw is in theaters now. (Photo Credit: A24) 

By Chris Sabga [Facebook | Website | X]

Sons.  Brothers.  Husbands.  Fathers.  Wrestlers.  Family.

“Now, we all know Kerry’s my favorite, then Kev, then David, then Mike.  But the rankings can always change”

– Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) in The Iron Claw

I grew up watching Kerry Von Erich in what was then the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE).  He wrestled there as the “Texas Tornado” in the early 1990s.  I didn’t know, at first, that he came from a prominent pro wrestling family.  What almost no one knew was that he wrestled without a foot.  It still boggles my mind, all these years later, because there was no way to tell that anything was missing (both literally and figuratively).  That is how much of an extraordinary athlete Kerry Von Erich was.

The Iron Claw tells the shocking and tragic true story of most of the Von Erich (Adkisson) family:

  • Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in "The Iron Claw". (Photo Credit: A24)
    Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich in The Iron Claw. (Photo Credit: A24)

    The patriarch: Fritz (Holt McCallany)

  • His wife: Doris, also affectionately referred to as Dottie (Maura Tierney, a good actor in a thankless role where she’s given very little to do except pucker her lips in a sour expression – a cold fish portrayal that’s the opposite of everything that’s ever been said about the real-life matriarch of the family.)
  • The eldest: Kevin Von Erich (A hulking Zac Efron, who clearly said his prayers and took his vitamins to play this part.)
  • The love of Kevin’s life: Pam (Lily James)
  • The Olympic hopeful: Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White)
  • The potential World Champion: David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson)
  • Their sensitive and musically-inclined brother: Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons)

Another brother – Chris – is never mentioned or shown.  A subplot involving a wrestler who was presented as a cousin of the family despite no actual relation – Lance (Played by wrestler “MJF” Maxwell Jacob Friedman, who is also credited as an executive producer.) – has been almost entirely cut.  (The character appears very briefly and is never identified by name.)

There are many timeline issues.  The most distracting is probably Kerry Von Erich’s motorcycle accident, which occurred two years later in real life.

There are also incredible performances in beautiful scenes.

To accurately review The Iron Claw, I have to put on two hats – one as a fan of professional wrestling since the age of 12 and another as a film buff for even longer.

My Perspective as a Pro Wrestling Fan

"The Iron Claw" stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, and Lily James. It was written and directed by Sean Durkin. (Photo Credit: A24)
The Iron Claw stars Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, and Lily James. It was written and directed by Sean Durkin. (Photo Credit: A24)

Since the advent of film, Hollywood biopics have edited, consolidated, omitted, and flat-out changed details in an attempt to create a clearer narrative.  This is no exception.

Usually, I can defend the practice.  Here, it seems unnecessary.

I can’t think of a good reason to leave Chris out.  I don’t understand why the major turning point in Kerry’s life couldn’t have been depicted when it actually happened.  Eliminating Lance’s arc seems like a huge mistake.  It would have emphasized the unorthodox nature of wrestling and Fritz’s obsession with the family business.  Even one scene with Kevin yelling at his father – “You’re giving us a fake cousin?  Everyone in this town knows our family!” – would have been better than nothing.

The casting of Ric Flair (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) has been roundly criticized, but I thought it was mostly fine.  It’s part imitation and part caricature, but there still are flashes of the real “Nature Boy” in what is otherwise an impossible task for any actor to achieve.  Harley Race (Kevin Anton) fares better.  Anton looks just like Race but doesn’t necessarily sound like him.

Gino Hernandez (Ryan Nemeth, who is also a pro wrestler.), The Fabulous Freebirds (Played by Brady Pierce, Silas Mason, and Devin Imbraguglio.), and Bruiser Brody (Crazzey Louis Cereghino) also make appearances.

The wrestling fan in me loved seeing veteran referee and familiar face James Beard in The Sportatorium one more time.

The actual in-ring scenes look crisp and credible, which is a credit to everyone involved.

My Thoughts as a Film Buff

The movie poster for "The Iron Claw." (Photo Credit: A24)
The movie poster for The Iron Claw. (Photo Credit: A24)

Was Kevin ever that muscular?  Wasn’t Kerry taller?  It’s easy to nitpick.  But what matters most are the performances, and they are truly spectacular.

I’ve been banging the Zac Efron drum for a long time.  Ever since I first saw him as a child actor in the obscure TV movie Miracle Run, I knew he was a major talent.

There has been Oscar buzz for Efron and Jeremy Allen White.  It remains to be seen if anything will come of that, but they are both deserving.  So is Holt McCallany.  His performance as Fritz is dynamite.  A case could also be made for Stanley Simmons and Lily James.  Harris Dickinson shouldn’t be overlooked either.  In the British independent film Scrapper, Dickinson convincingly plays a character that’s nothing like David Von Erich.  I didn’t realize it was the same actor until his name appeared in the credits!

Even though I knew that Kerry lost his foot in a motorcycle accident, seeing it on-screen for the first time is still a shock to the system.  It’s perfectly filmed.

There is a beautiful scene with Kerry, David, Mike, and Jack Jr. – which I won’t spoil – that left me teary-eyed and breathless.

Another heartfelt – and heartbreaking – moment is a conversation between Kevin and his young sons, Ross and Marshall (Who would go on to become wrestlers themselves.), on brotherhood.

The story of the Von Erichs is ultimately one about sons, brothers, husbands, fathers, wrestlers, and family.  But in what order?  The rankings can always change – and do – in The Iron Claw.

Release Date: December 22, 2023 (U.S. wide release) • Rating: R • Genre: Biography, Drama, Sports • Running Time: 132 minutes • Director: Sean Durkin • Cast: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Stanley Simons, with Holt McCallany and Lily James • Official Website: https://www.a24films.com/films/the-iron-claw

Chris Sabga has written for WOW Magazine, CBS Sportsline’s WrestleLine, IGN.com, They Live By Film, and SilverScreenSurprises.com.

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