The Von Erich wrestling clan gets long-awaited film with The Iron Claw
The history of movies about wrestling is not exactly full of hits. Despite the sport(?) having huge popularity, especially in the last 40 years, relatively few movies have been made about it, with Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and the WWE-approved Fighting with My Family topping that short list. The Iron Claw, about the Texas-based Von Erich wrestling family, is the latest to bring the sport to the big screen.
Set in the 1970s and ‘80s, the film centers on Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron), who is the family’s best hope to follow in the footsteps of his father, Fritz (Holt McCallany). In the film, Kevin has three brothers: Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), who is pursuing a dream of competing in the Olympics as a discus thrower; David (Harris Dickinson), a lower-tier wrestler; and Mike (Stanley Simons), who is more interested in music (a fifth brother, Chris, was not included in the film).
Through different circumstances and pressure from their father, each of the brothers winds up wrestling at some point, with many of their matches taking place at the now-defunct Sportatorium in Dallas. But the desire of Fritz for one of them to become a world champion in the sport, as well the efforts it takes to become a top wrestler, takes its toll, with tragedy touching them all in one way or another.
Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the film lovingly recreates the wrestling scene of the day, and will likely be a source of big nostalgia for anyone who loved the Von Erichs during that time. That feeling doesn’t necessarily translate to those who aren’t as familiar with the sport or the family, however. It feels as if Durkin is assuming that the details of the story are well-known, and so he skips over some relatively big steps along the way for the sake of expediency.
What definitely hits home is how the family was both close and distant at the same time. Each of the grown sons still lives at home, but Fritz and their mother, Doris (Maura Tierney), show little outward love, expecting the brothers to solve their own problems, even very serious ones. This harshness explains the drive of the boys to try to please their parents, although the depths to which they sink doesn’t fully come across in the storytelling.
The wrestling scenes are a bit scattershot, although each of the actors – especially Efron and White, who are muscle-bound to a scary degree – commits fully to the action that does occur. Durkin also makes sure to fill viewers in on the fact that the outcome of matches is almost always pre-determined, even if some of the finer points are confusing for anyone who’s not a big wrestling fan.
Efron has come a long way from his Disney days, and even though he still isn’t a top-notch actor, he more than fulfills what this particular role requires. Fans of The Bear may be disappointed that White is not given more to do in the film, but he still has some good moments. McCallany and Tierney bring the goods as withholding parents, with McCallany naturally getting the best scenes as the patriarch of the wrestling-obsessed family.
The Iron Claw is not an Oscar-quality film, but it works as a portrait of a family that had to experience more heartbreak than one group should. Fans who have longed to see their story told will likely be satisfied, even if film lovers may find the storytelling a little lacking.
The Iron Claw opens in theaters on December 22.