Directed by: Sean Durkin
Written by: Sean Durkin
Starring: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James
Released: January 18, 2024
Grade: B-

The Iron Claw

Since its inception in 1993, only 18 groups have been inducted into the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) Hall of Fame.  One of those were the Von Erich family – a father and five sons who emanated from Texas and found international stardom.  42-year-old writer-director Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene) has taken a few creative liberties in adapting their journey and it’s why the opening titles describe it as being “inspired” by a true story.  For example, the number of siblings has been cut from 5 to 4 (sorry Chris) to keep the runtime to a tight two hours.

There are plenty of world-renowned wrestlers deserving of the big screen treatment… but the heightened interest in this family is because of what happened outside of the wresting ring.  A series of tragedies and misfortunes led to the creation of the term “Von Erich curse.”  I don’t want to reveal too much about these specific events, so as not to spoil the movie for those unfamiliar, but they’re strongly alluded via narration in the film’s opening (“bad things kept happening”).

Two characters dominate the camera’s attention.  The first is Mike Von Erich (Simons), the domineering, emotionally guarded father who pushes his children hard.  This is partly for their benefit (he wants them to succeed in life), but the script implies it’s more for his own benefit.  He wants to ride their coattails in garnering wealth and influence, while also living vicariously through them and winning the world championship title he never could.  Holt McCallany (Mindhunter) portrays him as one dimensional and I wish more nuance was offered.  Was he a jerk and nothing more?

The second key player is Kevin Von Erich (Efron), the eldest sibling trying to make a name for himself within the sport despite many barriers, some self-created.  Efron (17 Again) is in peak physical condition for the role but, aside from the convincing wrestling scenes, not a lot is asked of the character.  He becomes the poster boy for the repetitive themes, pushed too strongly, about fate and chance.  Lily James’s (Cinderella) character is a useful voice of reason (she realises the curse stuff is nonsense) but no one else is prepared to buy in.

Curiously, the film’s most interesting person is the one pushed deepest into the background.  Maura Tierney (ER) plays Doris Von Erich, the family’s matriarch, who is depicted as a not-so-ethical bystander.  She’s the individual with the clearest view of the domestic dramas (folks like to confide in her) but she chooses not to intervene and maintains a stoic disposition.  I wish we saw more of her.

Durkin makes interesting choices in deciding what events to depict.  We don’t see a world title fight, we don’t see an important trip to Japan, and we don’t see a road accident.  His focus is more on character interactions and, to that extent, I enjoyed the interplay between the four brothers.  Harris Dickinson (Triangle of Sadness) gets the best of the dialogue (more natural than the others) and is the pick of the cast with his relaxed, chilled performance.

The Iron Claw makes a few poor choices (a lake scene towards the end is way too manipulative) but, in the same manner as The Boys in the Boat a few weeks ago, there’s a story worth admiring if you look past the film’s weaknesses.