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The Iron Claw

Directed by Sean Durkin
Produced by Sean Durkin, Derrin Schlesinger, Angus Lamont, Tessa Ross, and Juliette Howell
Written by Sean Durkin
With: Holt McCallany, Maura Tierney, Grady Wilson, Valentine Newcomer, Zac Efron, Lily James, Stanley Simons, Michael Harney, Maxwell Jacob Friedman, Cazzey Louis, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Ryan Nemeth, and Scott Innes
Cinematography: Mátyás Erdély
Editing: Matthew Hannam
Music: Richard Reed Parry
Runtime: 132 min
Release Date: 22 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

The third feature from writer/producer/director Sean Durkin tells the true story of the close-knit family of professional wrestling brothers Kevin, Kerry, David, and Mike Von Erich. A biographical Sports drama might seem odd for Durkin, whose prior pictures are the unsettling psychological thrillers Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011) and The Nest (2020). However, like those dark fictional creations, The Iron Claw explores the complexity of dysfunctional family dynamics in ways that get under our skin and linger in our minds.

Zac Efron (former child star of the Disney Channel's High School Musical, as well as films like Me and Orson Welles, The Paperboy, and The Greatest Showman) stars as Kevin, the oldest living member of the Von Erich brothers. Kevin is the first of the clan to follow in his father Fritz Von Erich's footsteps and go for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship title that Fritz was denied back when he was competing. The movie astutely explores the confusion and pain of having someone else chart the course of your life. Kevin and nearly all his brothers are asked to sacrifice their dreams to fulfill those of their father. Wrestling is a profession they go into willingly; they are not exactly forced into it by their parents, but The Iron Claw is one of the best films I've yet seen to "wrestle" so well with the notion of consent among minors. Following the excellent Poor Things and May December, this is the third drama released in 2023 to explore powerful themes of agency and consent in an indirect manner that never comes across as didactic, simplistic, or preachy.

Holt McCallany and Maura Tierney give commanding performances as Fritz, the head of the family and the family business, and Doris Von Erich, the matriarch whose primary guidance to her sons about most of the issues they face is along the lines of "you need to figure this out for yourself." Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons bring dimension and pathos to Kevin's younger brothers, some of whom have more professional success than Kevin, but all of whom have a more challenging time dealing with the circumstances of their lives and careers. The always lovely Lily James (Cinderella, Little Woods, Yesterday) plays Kevin’s eager and supportive wife, Pam.

Durkin clearly has a personal affection for professional wrestling—a sport that has always been as much about theater as athletic prowess since the competitions are staged and the combatants are all playing larger-than-life characters. One of the paradoxes about this "fake" sport is that its participants sustain more severe injuries and fatalities as a direct result than any legitimate professional competitive endeavor. Melodrama is baked into pro-wrestling, where the players' grandstanding bluster and personal attacks in scripted TV interviews are designed to get audiences as swept up in rivalries, revenge, family feuds, and other interpersonal dynamics as much as the bouts themselves. But nothing about The Iron Claw comes across as heightened or manipulative. It is a tragic family drama and a compelling testimonial to the allure of a most unusual art form.

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Sean Durkin's darkly affectionate tribute to professional wrestling explores the true story of the Von Erich family and the tragic complexities of trying to fulfill another person's dreams.