The Iron Claw is a heart-wrenching, ever-so-painful Shakespearian-level tragedy with much going for it.
And some significant flaws to boot.
(Warning- This review has spoilers.)
The Von Erich clan is led by patriarch and taskmaster- wrestling headliner turned promoter Fritz (Adkisson) Von Erich. Portrayed by Holt McCallany, he physically resembles Fritz far more than Zac Efron (Kevin), Jeremy Allen White (Kerry), Harris Dickinson (David), or Stanley Simons (Mike) do the Von Erich boys.
The film has an almost Will Smith as Muhammed Ali-type effect where, throughout, you’re thinking, “Zac Efron doesn’t look like Kevin.” Ironically, the actor got into such tremendous shape that he was built more like Kerry.
And throughout, you see actors that “don’t look like,” “kind of look like,” and “barely resemble” the legendary opponents they’re portraying.
The Iron Claw –
‘A heart-wrenching, Shakespearian-level tragedy with Much Going For it’
Yes, the wrestling fans in the audience will need a lot of suspension of disbelief to make that jump, but the actors portraying the brothers are topnotch, and it’s a star-making turn for Stanley Simons as Mike, who steals the film.
Early in the movie, Fritz ranks his boys from favorite to least favorite, and you see the pain etched on their faces; it’s the start of a downfall so tragic that the filmmakers leave their late brother Chris out of the film entirely.
It might have been too much for audiences to bear.
As is, you live through their meteoric rise to stadium-filling superheroes and then one death and suicide after another. Did Fritz push his boys too hard? Well, musician Mike, with his rock star aspirations, had little interest in entering the squared circle, but all the boys craved Fritz’s love.
And like Chris Jericho, there was Fritz’s list. None of them wanted to be on the bottom rung of that.
Making Dad proud proved deadly.
I got the nagging feeling throughout the film that this would work better for the non-wrestling fans who didn’t know every tragedy about to fall on the likable, fun-loving All-American boys.
It’s almost like watching Titanic.
You knew many of those characters wouldn’t see the shore again. Nor are most of the Von Erich boys.
The best moments in the film are the non-wrestling ones where you get to know the family. The most fully developed character is Zac Ephron’s Kevin.
He slowly but surely, following one tragedy after another, realizes his salvation isn’t in wrestling or religion or his over-zealous father whose own dreams are dumped on his children but rather in his loving wife and family.
The other characters don’t get a chance to evolve much at all. Kerry is portrayed as the hard-partying jock, Mike the tortured Artist, and David, the most gifted and charismatic wrestler of the bunch who was pushed ahead of brother Kevin leading to friction.
Then, before you blink, one after another is gone, and you’re left reeling.
There are moments in this film that are almost unbearable to watch, including a scene where matriarch Doris bemoans having to wear the same black dress to bury yet another son.
And Kevin, upon finding his brother dead, tries to strangle Fritz. He then carries Kerry’s limp body into the house, places him on a table, and tells him he loves him.
It is so pitiful it will stay with you forever.
While wrestling fans have fixated on an exaggerated Ric Flair portrayal, a wrong timeline, and Chris’s absence, none were deal-breakers for me.
Instead, I pondered whether Kevin and Fritz ever made amends after Fritz told him that if he sold the promotion to Jerry Jarrett, he would never step foot in his home again.
Well, Kevin sold WCCW, Fritz died of cancer, and that seemingly important plot thread was left hanging.
A scene where the brothers reunite in Heaven is tremendously powerful. I guess Chris was working a match in that great arena in the sky because, at that poignant moment, his presence was indeed missed.
I’m unsure if I quite “enjoyed” The Iron Claw; it was so devastating that it crossed the line into grim.
At the very end, Kevin breaks down into tears.
“I used to be a brother. And I’m not a brother anymore.“
That he finds solace in his wife and kids is the sole happy note of a rough watch.
But with stellar performances and some beautiful, deeply moving scenes, The Iron Claw is well worth seeing and supporting.
Evan Ginzburg is the Senior Editor for Pro Wrestling Stories and has been a contributing writer since 2017. He’s a published author and was an Associate Producer on the Oscar-nominated movie “The Wrestler” and the acclaimed wrestling documentary “350 Days.”
He is the Producer of the documentary Wrestling- Then and Now. He is a 30-plus-year film, radio, and TV veteran and a voice-over actor on the radio drama Kings of the Ring.