The Iron Claw: A Story of Wrestling and Brotherhood

The Iron Claw is a biographical sports drama written and directed by Sean Durkin. The script is based on the lives of the famous Von Erich family of professional wrestlers

by Sededin Dedovic
The Iron Claw: A Story of Wrestling and Brotherhood
© Lionsgate Movies / Youtube channel

"The Iron Claw," directed and written by Sean Durkin, is not your typical sports drama. It delves into the true story of the Von Erichs, a legendary wrestling family haunted by a seemingly inevitable web of tragedies. At the center of the film is Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron), the eldest son, but the shadow of his domineering father, Fritz (Holt McCallany), looms over the entire narrative.

Premiering in November 2023, just after the SAG-AFTRA strike ended, the film won critical acclaim for its unflinching portrayal of a family bound together by love and the relentless pursuit of fame. This is a dramatization of the tragic true story of the Von Erich family, and many, including Kevin, believe that there is a family curse behind all these events.

The film begins with a sense of unease. Fritz, a former top wrestler, surprises his wife Doris (Maura Tierney) and their young sons with a shiny new car. Doris finds this extravagance reckless, but Fritz exudes undeniable authority, and his ambition rubs off on his impressionable sons.

Durkin makes masterful use of close-up shots here, conveying the psychological pressure the boys endure more powerfully than any staged wrestling match. The story primarily takes place between the 1970s and early 1990s, focusing on Kevin, David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike, the youngest brother.

Kevin's future wife, Pam (Lily James), aptly describes him as suffering from "oldest brother syndrome." He is fiercely protective of his siblings, longing for a simple life where they can all thrive together. However, the poignant scene in which Pam hugs Kevin reveals a deeper sadness.

He seems confused by the gesture, suggesting a life devoid of basic affection. Efron's physical transformation is impressive, displaying a superhero-like physique, but a haunted, almost broken quality remains in his eyes throughout the film.

The Iron Claw© a24/ Youtube channel

Wrestling is the lifeblood of the family, the only focus of Fritz's world, and thus of his sons. Fritz's bitterness over his own unfulfilled dreams manifests as a cold, demanding presence.

Interestingly, a detail left out of the film is Fritz's unsettling personality in the ring – the Nazi. McCallany gives a chilling performance, portraying Fritz as a man who wields authority without having to raise a hand or even raise his voice.

His sons rarely question him, his wishes and orders forming the cornerstone of their isolated lives on their remote Texas ranch. At the beginning of the film, Kevin is named Fritz's "second favorite" because of his wrestling prowess.

Kerry, however, holds the coveted top spot, initially trying out for the Olympics as a discus thrower. The title of "favorite son" becomes a twisted game, with the rankings changing as Kevin struggles with injuries, David emerges as a potential world champion, and Kerry's Olympic dreams crumble, pushing him towards the sport Fritz wants most - wrestling.

The youngest, Mike, yearns for music with his friends, but Fritz meets his dreams with indifference and quiet resignation from Doris. The brothers endure grueling training sessions, pushing their bodies to the limit. They repress emotions – anger, frustration, fear of failure, and the ever-present fear of disappointing their father.

One brother dismisses his severe injuries, even throwing up blood at Kevin's wedding. Another turns to alcohol to numb the pain, and the psychological burden of his father's expectations is a constant torment. Even Mike succumbs to a short stint in the ring, despite his musical passion.

The Iron Claw© A24 / YOutube channel

While wrestling forms the framework of the story, "Iron Claw" transcends genre. It is a deeply moving drama, masterfully acted and emotionally raw. It delves into the complexity of family dynamics, where the search for love and approval collides with ambitions and destructive expectations.

The film does not shy away from the tragedies of the Von Erichs, but avoids resorting to cheap sentimentality. It presents their misfortunes not as a curse, but as the result of a dysfunctional family structure driven by a father's obsession with reviving his own wrestling glory through his sons.

"Iron Claw" is more than a biographical sports film. It's powerfully acted, deeply sad and pays tribute to its story, whose compassionate exploration of family ties is as hard-hitting as its action in the ring. It is a powerful testament to the human spirit, showing the enduring strength of brotherhood in the face of tremendous pressure and unimaginable loss.

This is definitely one of those movies that stays with you long after you've finished watching it, leaving you pondering the delicate balance between ambition, love and the pursuit of happiness. A really great movie that you need to watch with deep attention to understand the deep message of this movie.