"The Iron Claw" Film Review

The Iron Claw (2023) - IMDb

"The Iron Claw" Film Review

Rating: 5/5

By: Nathaniel Simpson

    The Von Erich family is cursed. That is what Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) keeps telling his love interest, Pam (Lily James), throughout the course of Sean Durkin's newest film, "The Iron Claw". Unfortunately, Kevin may be right as tragic events keep happening to the family, usually always taking place a major positive event for one of them. In this incredible film, Durkin perfectly showcases love, heartbreak, grief, jealousy, and acceptance, which is accompanied by fantastic performances, especially from Efron, who perhaps gives the best performance of his career so far. 

    The Von Erich are one of the most influential wrestling families in the world. The brothers, which consist of Kevin, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson), and Mike (Stanley Simons), who are the sons of an amazing wrestler named Fritz (Holt McCallany). Their father's signature move, the Iron Claw, is the work of legends, and is what the sons used to become so successful in the worldwide wrestling league. Kevin and his brothers start to grow in the ranks, and Kevin meets Pam and starts a loving relationship. 

    However, even the mightiest and the most successful has tragedies. Unfortunately for the Von Erich's, their tragedies are extreme and are seemingly back-to-back. Kevin and his brothers try to move through the tragedies, while also wrestling with the mental abuse that has been put on them by their parents. 

    This movie is moved by its performances, which are so damn good here. Efron, who rose to stardom with roles in Disney's "High School Musical" and other adult comedies, shows that he is a serious actor that really cares about his craft. He throws himself into this role, and does such a good job doing it. You don't even really see Efron in this role, which means he did his job perfectly. At the same time, there are themes of grief and heartbreak, which Efron plays perfectly here. Consider the part towards the end of the film, where Kevin stays at the gym all day and even sleeps in his office due to his being so distraught about what happened. Durkin did a wonderful job of putting this onto the screen, but it wouldn't have worked as well it did if Efron didn't craft this performance so well. 

    At the same time, I think Allen White, Dickinson, Simons, McCallany, and Maura Tierney, who plays the Von Erich's mother Doris, do a great job of being supporting characters to Efron's character. The brothers are each unique and their own character, and have wonderful on-screen chemistry with Efron. Allen White is fantastic as playing the sad, yet eager brother (which can even be found through his award-winning performance on the FX show "The Bear"), and Dickinson is spot-on with playing the confident and outgoing sibling. On the flip side of the coin, Simons is the one member who is unlike the others. He has no passion in wrestling, and rather wants to pursue a career in music. He is easily one of the most lovable and sympathetic characters of the movie, and Simons just has that personality to make you easily fall in love with him.

    Outside of the family, our other side protagonist is James' Pam, who has amazing chemistry with Efron. They are one of those on-screen couples that feels like it could exist in real life, and you just love the way they interact with each other. Pam is more outgoing and less shy than Kevin is, making their relationship on the screen such a good dynamic. Now, looking at the antagonist here, which could easily be identified as Fritz, McCallany performs in such a way that some of his actions will literally break your heart. He is playing this douchebag of a character, and you leave the theater seriously wondering if you hate the actor or the character he is portraying. He is so good here, and it honestly makes me wonder how him or Efron didn't get Oscar nominations this year. 

    Now, I don't think this could have worked if Durkin didn't know how to tell this film. Serving as both the director and screenwriter, Durkin really understands the feelings of grief and heartbreak, while also knowing the overwhelming feeling of pure love between brothers. These feelings are so elegantly on display here, and it honestly feels effortless by all of the talents involved. The story is so gut-wrenching on its own, but Durkin really adds this extra layer of emotions to bring it home. I would easily say this is one of the most depressing films of the last year, but it is not depressing in the sense that it is soulless and sad for the sake of being sad. It is also hopeful when it feels like everything is lost, and the viewer can feel that throughout the movie.

    I wanted to bring attention to a certain scene of the film. It's actually the final scene, where Kevin is playing with his two young sons. We see his back for a period of time, before it is focuses on his face. He is crying, for the first time in the whole movie. We haven't seen any of the main characters cry; not when someone shoot themselves in front of that person, not when someone has their foot amputated, not when they lose their title shot. No, this is the first time, and it is profound grief Kevin is feeling. He was made to feel that, as a man, he couldn't show his true emotions and had to maintain his composure. It's not until his young sons told him it is ok to cry, and they do it all the time. This film all cumulates to this one scene, showing the effects of toxic masculinity and mental abuse that was brought upon the brothers. It is heartbreaking and easily one of the best scenes of the movie, if not one of the best scenes in cinema of the last year. 

    Before this movie was announced, I honestly had no clue who the Von Erichs were. I'm sure a lot of people didn't if they weren't big fans of wrestling growing up. Durkin took this beautifully tragic story and really gave it life here, and he did it perfectly. This film is so full of passion and love, and it really works from beginning to end. Durkin, who combined his efforts with talented actors like Efron and James, captured one of the best films of last year, and I am really disappointed it is not getting the credit it truly deserves.