The Iron Claw is a 2023 A24/Lionsgate movie directed and written by Sean Durkin. It stars Zac Efron, alongside Jeremy Allen White and Lily James. The movie has made $24.9-million on a budget of $15.9-million.
The story is inspired by the real-life Von Erichs, a renowned family in professional wrestling entertainment. To learn about the family’s true story, I’d recommend watching the Dark Side of the Ring episode, “The Last of the Von Erichs.” The Iron Claw is a relatively faithful adaptation of the story, even if it does have some glaring misrepresentations like the removal of Chris Von Erich, the family’s fifth brother.
Going in, I was nervous about Efron as the lead. He did not impress me in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. However, The Iron Claw is the best performance I have ever seen from Efron. His performance is earnest and nuanced, with a lot said in looks, body language and breath. The performances of his brothers, played by Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons, are also nuanced but it is Efron who shines the brightest.
There was one actor who competed with Efron for best actor in the film: Holt McCallany. He is a small-part actor who is known as Bill Tench on Mindhunter. In The Iron Claw, he plays Fritz Von Erich, the family’s patriarch. His great scenes include listing his favourite sons in order, a visceral speech in the ring, telling the boys not to wear their sunglasses and sitting in silence with his wife.
The director, Durkin, deserves at least some credit for these nuanced performances. It was my first time watching his direction and it is impressive. There are some creative shots in this movie and some credit should be given to the cinematographer, Mátyás Erdély. Memorable shots include a motorcycle ride, a quadruple exposure of the brothers and the mother watching wrestling alone in the living room. In a bathroom scene, Simons, playing Mike Von Erich, is shot (or perhaps edited) in warm, fuzzy light and texture, which uniquely reflects the scene’s action. The opening black and white of Fritz Von Erich fighting in the ring is reminiscent of Raging Bull. The 80s TV title screens for the televised wrestling events add accuracy and remind the audience of wrestling’s campy nature.
I was underwhelmed by the afterlife scene. After starting well, it becomes cheesy. It’s too bad that this smart concept did not translate wholly onto the screen. The scene rallies only after the audience accepts the needed comfort after such heart-wrenching tragedy.
I think the actors did a powerful job with the material they were given. The Von Erich story holds so much power on its own that it really doesn’t matter much if the script is not the most poetic, so long as it comes from a place of heart and tells the story mostly accurately. The script’s shortcomings are well hidden behind strong acting, a powerful premise and crisp cinematography.
The Iron Claw is a guy-cry movie. Entourage’s Johnny Drama and Turtle put Rudy as the champion of guy-cry movies, but The Iron Claw is a new No. 1 contender for the title. It has a profoundly sad story with themes central to male bonding: competition, brotherhood and legacy.
I would highly recommend The Iron Claw. It’s not an easy watch. A girl two seats down from me in the theatre was often covering her eyes during the violent wrestling scenes. However, it’s an important story that deals with grief, loss, pressure and regret. The acting is, for the most part, strong, with Efron and McCallany giving Oscar-contender performances. It is wonderfully shot by Durkin and Erdély, and I will absolutely be lining up for Durkin’s next movie.