In the world of professional wrestling, everything is exaggerated and over the top. The competitors have to be turned up to eleven or they will not get over with the crowd. The actions have to be superhuman or the crowd will be disinterested thinking that they can do everything they see. Despite all of that, the wrestlers have to remain engaged with the audience or why would the crowd care? Wrestling is an art form that few can do well, and it lends itself perfectly to cinema because it is acting, stunts, and theater without getting to cut and reshoot if something does not work.
Make no mistake about The Iron Claw being a wrestling movie. It is a film about family, fate, and tragedy with a wrestling background. It is an emotional trainwreck heaped upon the backs of one the greatest wrestling families to ever entertain an audience…particularly on Kevin Von Erich, the last surviving member of the legendary family.
Sean Durkin writes and directs The Iron Claw with care and reverence befitting a lifelong fan. Though he tells the story in a subtle, understated way to ensure the audience understands that this is about family and their choices. Each beat of the script is a gentle brush stroke crafting a grand painting.
I would like to note that the decisions by the director only become more apparent and deeper in meaning with multiple views, though it is wonderful from the first watch. Musical choices, production choices, and the shots used all play into the greater meaning of the picture.
Ensuring the director’s vision is one of the best ensemble performances that I have ever experienced. From the opening introduction of Holt McCallany’s intense Fritz to the closing moments, every single performance is masterfully done.
Zac Efron excels in a stoic performance. He and McCallany almost create your consciences of the story between Fritz’s explosive tendencies and Kevin’s gentle nature. While subtle, you can see cues he took from Maura Tierney as caring matriarch of the Von Erichs, while Jeremy Allen White (Kerry Von Erich) and Harris Dickinson (David Von Erich) more closely resemble McCallany’s fierce intensity. Stanley Simons gives a remarkable, oxymoron-like performance as the youngest brother who does not fit anywhere yet fits perfectly as the outcast. I could go on at length about every single member of the cast, but that would venture into spoiler territory, and I would not do that to a reader. What I will say is that this is one of those rare times while watching a film that the cinematic family feels genuinely connected through every single actor.
With so much acting talent in the cast, it would be easy to forget about making the wrestling as natural and engaging as the other pieces to this cinematic puzzle, but the in-arena scenes play just as perfectly as everything else. Huge kudos to Chavo Guerrero, Jr., Luke Hawx, and their incredibly skilled team for ensuring the action during matches/promos is befitting of an award-winning drama to the point that, if even for moments, I was completely sucked into the nostalgia of World Class Championship Wrestling.
It seems strange to say that I love a movie with so much intense heartbreak, but The Iron Claw is one of my favorite movie experiences of the year to the point of receiving multiple nominations from myself and many members of the North Texas Film Critics Association. It is a crushing masterpiece that is sure to captivate fans whether they know the story of the Von Erichs or are unfamiliar with why we would get excited hearing that opening to “Tom Sawyer” by Rush echo through the Sportatorium.