‘The Iron Claw’: Deeper than the dynastic name suggests

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Brothers Kerry (left), Mike (center) and Kevin Von Erich (right) were portrayed in the film. Two of the three brothers suffered hardship and turmoil, due to the supposed curse on the Von Erich name.

Bunny Schaaf | Staff Writer

“The Iron Claw,” is a story about endurance, family and loss that just so happens to also be a movie about wrestling.

The film follows the true story of the Von Erichs wrestling dynasty, a stage name curated by father and wrestler, Jack Adkisson (Holt McCallany).

His five sons – eldest Kevin (Zac Efron), Olympic-trained Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), star of the family David (Harris Dickinson) and wannabe musician Mike (Stanley Simons) – all became involved in wrestling at one point in their lives, all reaching some form of stardom and success, save for the youngest, Chris, who was excluded from the film.

Not much can be said about the Von Erichs without spoiling the essence of A24’s family bio-flick. They’re famously marked by a supposed curse that came with the Von Erich name. It seemed to have begun with the death of Jack Adkisson’s first son, Jack Jr., and it didn’t seem to stop with the other boys, either. As a deeply religious family, the boys’ mother, Doris, believed God would look out for them.

Going into the movie, I had no idea who the Von Erichs were and, despite hearing good things about it, I was worried it would just be another movie about sports and the ‘come-up.’ But “The Iron Claw” is nothing like that.

While the film starts out as a near-kitschy retelling of family wrestlers in the 1980s, it quickly evolves to become a film about brotherhood, family and competitive endurance. The boys experience a series of highs and lows in their careers, but ultimately seem to come out on top, at least in the beginning.

The rest of the film begins to break down in a calculated, sorrowful way, where Kevin begins to experience love and loss in ways that he couldn’t predict.

His father maintains the role of the shrewd, strict man who pushes his sons to be better and better and better, until they break. When Kevin begins to detach himself from his patronage and goes from the star among the brothers to the homely, married one, he must watch his brothers breakdown mentally and emotionally.

While wrestling requires immense endurance and the ability to get back up over and over again, Kevin and his family find themselves having to get back up over and over again outside of the ring. Kevin struggles immensely as he loses his family while making his own with his wife, Pam.

To say more about the film would be to spoil its gut-wrenching ups and downs with a competitive undercurrent. However, I can say that it is an incredibly powerful film.

“The Iron Claw” is beautifully shot, with most scenes taking place at the ranch house where the Von Erichs grew up. The chemistry of the brothers’ portrayals is immense and is communicated well through all of their nuanced interactions.

Even when they wrestle or blow up at each other, they always help each other up at the end.

It is difficult to capture the character of reality in a film, and director Sean Durkin succeeds in doing so.

Even the real, non-Zac-Efron Kevin Von Erich enjoyed the portrayal and the capture of this blurry time of his life, told The Guardian, save for the depiction of his father who he described as far more honorable.

All in all, the film is well done, and it is not just a documentation of wrestling but of an entire wrestling dynasty that was subject to the trials and tribulations that every family experiences.

From the importance of a brotherly bond to the jealousy embedded in competitive sports, there is no stone unturned in “The Iron Claw.”

The film is now available to stream on YouTube or Prime Video for an additional fee and is definitely worth the watch, even for those who don’t enjoy movies about sports. This release is intensely dramatic, driven by creative biographical storytelling and contains extremely sensitive topics, a given with the exposure of the underbelly of fame.