Children and their families would plop down in front of their television in the ’80s to watch the Von Erich brothers wrestle in an extravagant display of rippling muscle and showmanship. Decades later, families can go to the theater to relive their childhoods while watching the tragedy of the Von Erich Curse unfold before them.
Named after the famous wrestling move, “The Iron Claw” follows the Von Erich family, a group of brothers known for pioneering professional wrestling in Texas with skill and charisma. The storyline focuses on Kevin, Terry, David and Mike as they attempt to find success in the professional wrestling world while keeping their brotherhood and personal lives intact. While sprinkled with dramatic reenactments of the brothers’ wrestling matches, the film focuses on their tragic and unconventional family dynamic.
The brothers were inseparable, only kept together by the hard love that their domineering father bestowed on them. The star-studded cast consisting of Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons was incredible, oozing the warmth and energy that comes with siblings while also showing the individuality in each brother. Efron portrayed the eldest, Kevin, with a sense of caring and overprotectiveness that heavily contrasts with the brutality of the sport. White took on Kerry’s despondency and ambition that made audiences root for him. Simons, a lesser-known actor, drew out the sensitivity and youth of Mike, the youngest brother who didn’t want a life in the ring.
While each cast member was fantastic, the standout star of the film was Harris Dickinson, who captured David’s teasing nature and confidence in the spotlight. Every scene of his felt larger than life, throwing audiences into the ring and making audiences feel a deep kinship with David.
The cinematography focused on juxtaposing the flashy ’80s colored wrestling ring and skimpy wrestling garments with the bleakness of brown foliage and white-picket imagery of North Texas. This contrast reflects the mental highs and lows of the brothers and lets older audiences bask in the nostalgia of vintage Dallas while exposing young viewers to an aesthetic not previously experienced.
Even physically, the actors underwent a drastic transformation to prepare for the ring, packed with muscle and suited up in wrestling gear. The actors’ appearances emphasized the physical strain that their careers had on their bodies, but the real damage was psychological. With a family legacy and curse looming over them, the brothers are hit with tragedy after tragedy. There was the capability for their story to seem unrealistic and Shakespearean, but the script showed the domino effect that the sport had on them all.
Unfortunately, at times, the family felt as artificial as the sport they played. With inconsistent Texas accents and vague connections that only make sense if you are aware of wrestling history, the Von Erichs didn’t feel lived in. Maybe it was the stress of wrestling seeping into their personal lives, or the runtime didn’t allow every characters’ motivation to be fully fleshed out, but at times it was hard to see the group as a real family and not a cast of actors with good chemistry.
The death scenes of Kerry and Mike were tear-inducing, but Lily James’ portrayal of Pam — Kevin’s wife — was underrated and heartbreaking. Marrying into a family marred by death and mental illness is hard enough, but Kevin’s fear of the curse resulted in his absence as he distanced himself from his wife and kids. James showed the exhaustion and strength needed to raise a family and work a full-time job, coupled with the empathy and love she expresses for the Von Erichs. She is filled with exuberance and femininity, making her a standout in a film centered around masculinity and pain.
Filled with recreations of real advertisements and wrestling matches, the film pushed the feeling of ’80s nostalgia combined with emotional characterizations of beloved pop culture figures to make audience members deeply invested. Even if you aren’t an ’80s baby or well-versed in the history of wrestling, this film will make you feel like a fan of decades past, crying over the loss of your favorite Von Erich brother. So bring your family and definitely bring your tissues to experience the agony of “The Iron Claw.”