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Iron Claw

In theaters December 22, 2023


132 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , ,

Ah, the 1980’s. Big hair. Big hair bands. And in the case of The Von Erich brothers, bad hair. Like, literally the worst. Don’t believe me? Check out this pic this pic. But I digress…

Before the World Wildlife Fund won a lawsuit to own the rights to the WWF name, the acronym was far better known for the World Wrestling Foundation, a sports organization that put professional wrestling on the map. As big as the WWE is today with names like Dwayne Johnson and John Cena graduating from the ring to the screen in recent years, the 80’s were the true heyday of wrestling. The WWF boasted larger-than-life stars like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Randy “The Macho Man” Savage while the NWA countered with stars like Ric Flair, and nestled between the two organizations was a family that made a name for themselves starting in the 1950s when Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) wrestled as a bad guy in a variety of wrestling syndicates. During his decades in the ring, Von Erich found great success, but it was a 1967 loss for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship that haunted him throughout the remainder of his life.

Inspired by the true and beyond tragic story of the Von Erichs, The Iron Claw, takes us first back to Fritz’s early days as a wrestler and his life with wife Doris (Maura Tierney) as they raised six boys before flashing forward to the early 80’s when the family dynasty began to take shape.

A good ole Texas family, Fritz pushed his boys hard to make something of themselves. He was a man who believed that whatever his sons did, it was about being the best. For Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), that was becoming an Olympian in discus-throwing. For Kevin (Zac Efron) and David (Harris Dickinson), that meant following in their dad’s footsteps. And for Mike, that meant trying to follow his passion in music despite his dad’s objections. Yet for Fritz, all he truly wanted to see was an NWA Heavyweight Championship around the waist of a son. That drive often was met with little regard for the mental well-being of his children, unafraid to call out who his favorite son was and gleefully pitting them against one another for his love.

But Fritz and Doris didn’t have an easy life, beginning with the loss of their son Jack at the age of six after an unfortunate accident. The life that would follow is the focus of The Iron Claw, highlighting the various successes and setbacks of each of the boys as they too landed in the ring – often only to gain daddy’s attention – but also the great tragedy most met during their all-too-short time on this planet.

Zac Efron turns in a career performance putting everything into playing Kevin, the original wrestling star from the next generation of Von Erich’s and ultimately the sole surviving brother. Efron’s physique looms as large as his presence in the film with Hollywood abuzz at how he gained such strength – a build that puts to shame his ridiculous body in 2017’s Baywatch. But it isn’t just Efron who got ripped, The Bear‘s Jeremy Allen White clearly spent far more time in the gym than in the kitchen to prepare for his role as the most well-known wrestler in the family. Lily James who so amazingly transformed into Pamela Anderson in last year’s Pam and Tommy Lee is nearly unrecognizable as Kevin’s wife, Pam. James and Tierney who essentially share the only female roles in the movie make up for the lack of estrogen with giant performances. Watching Tierney lose child after child is heartbreaking. And James, as the outsider of the family, showcases the difficulty of being part of such a close-knit family while also struggling to keep her husband and marriage together with each additional misfortune.

Beyond the many great performances in the film, The Iron Claw also boasts one of the best soundtracks of the year. That, of course, shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering it represents one of the best decades ever for music. While the film may ultimately not win any major awards, it introduces America to a family that few outside of the world of wrestling know and a story so unbelievable, it’s hard to believe that it’s (mostly) true.

Iron Claw is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: Mark Eaton
Mark is an entertainment junkie, spending much of his leisure time watching movies, TV, or listening to any and all genres of music. Most evenings, after finishing a day of work and hanging with his wife and kids, Mark can be found in an eternal battle with his DVR, trying to clear it before another 5-6 hours of shows are recorded the next day. Still reeling from his unpaid gig for the Detroit News where he was fired for being too cruel with his American Idol recaps, Mark is thrilled to be sharing his wicked sense of humor with Movie Reelists.

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