The Movie Waffler New Release Review - THE IRON CLAW | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - THE IRON CLAW

The Iron Claw review
The rise and fall of the Von Erich wrestling dynasty.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Sean Durkin

Starring: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James

The Iron Claw poster

Three films into his under-appreciated career, writer/director Sean Durkin has completed what might be consider a "Father knows best" trilogy. All three of his movies are about fathers or father figures who destroy their "families" with their controlling nature. In his debut, Martha Marcy May Marlene, it was a sinister cult leader. In The Nest it was a father desperate to escape his working class roots and take a shortcut to becoming a member of the landed gentry. In The Iron Claw it's a real life figure, wrestler turned mogul Fritz Von Erich, whose commodification of his sons resulted directly or indirectly in a series of tragedies that would be considered overly melodramatic if they were conceived by a screenwriter.

After an opening flashback to his wrestling days, we cut to 1979 where we find Fritz (Holt McCallany) living with his wife Doris (Maura Tierney) and three of their four sons - Kevin (Zac Efron), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanley Simons) - on a ranch in rural Texas. A fourth son, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), is away with the US Olympic team, hoping to compete in the Disqus event at the following year's tournament. When the US pulls out of the Moscow Olympics as part of an anti-Soviet boycott, a dejected Kerry returns to his family and takes up wrestling.

The Iron Claw review

It's a setup straight out of a glossy 1980s American soap opera, with four sons wrestling, both literally and figuratively, for their father's favour. At the breakfast table Fritz ranks his sons in order of preference. We wait for a collective laugh. It doesn't come. "The rankings aren't set in stone," he tells his sons. Fritz treats his sons how awards obsessives treat movies, valuing them only by the trinkets they might add to his mantelpiece. He constantly argues that they're not doing enough to fulfil their potential, but he has no interest in their own ambitions and dreams. I was reminded of a line from another recent film, American Fiction: "Potential is what people see when what's in front of them isn't good enough."


Kevin, David and Kerry willingly follow their father's wishes of entering the squared circle. Mike, the youngest and skinniest brother, has little interest in wrestling. He wants to be a rock star, performing at secret college gigs and rehearsing with a garage band while his parents think he's rehearsing with a classical orchestra. His father was himself a musician but gave it up because he saw wrestling as a more lucrative option. His mother ended her interest in painting when she married Fritz. Theirs is a house of single-minded ambition, with an attic full of dusty dreams.

The Iron Claw review

As Fritz pushes his sons to what he considers greatness, they succumb to a series of personal tragedies. To cope with the gruelling physicality of their profession they become addicted to painkillers and harder drugs. The Iron Claw is a bullfighting drama told from the perspective of the bull. The Von Erich boys are coralled by their powerful father, given a few precious minutes of blood-soaked freedom whenever he unleashes them in the ring. The title refers to the signature finishing move of the Von Erichs, but also to the hold Fritz has over his family.


With each son struck by successive tragedy as though they were teenagers in a Final Destination movie, Kevin comes to believe his family is subject to a curse. This drives him away from his own wife (a miscast Lily James, unconvincing as a daughter of the Alamo) and children for fear that they might become infected. Kevin is unable to stand up to his father and can't rely on his mother for any support: "That's what your brothers are for," she responds when he asks if he can have a few words. When Kevin cries out for help from his father regarding his fears over the emotional state of one of his brothers, the cruel response is "That's between you and your brother." Fritz may profit from his sons' blood, but he's also washed his hands of it.

The Iron Claw review

Efron's Kevin is the heart of the film, with the drama largely centred around the effects his brothers' turmoil has on him. Early on Kevin struggles to conceal his jealousy as he sees his brothers gifted opportunities he believes he should have been rewarded, but as tragedy befalls his brood he develops a survivor's guilt that eats away at his soul. Despite physically looking like the fittest specimen on the planet, Efron's sad expression is that of a man wasting away. Newcomer Simons follows his impressive turn in the 2021 psycho-drama Superior with a heartbreaking performance as the runt of the Von Erich litter.

The series of tragedies that befall the Von Erichs may seem ripped from a bad soap opera, but Durkin actually left out another doomed real life brother as he felt it would have been one tragedy too many. The passive manner in which Durkin relates each awful twist, a reflection of Fritz's stiff upper lip, means the movie never feels melodramatic however. Like its male protagonists, it keeps its emotions in check until a climactic emotional outburst that will stir something in the most macho of male viewers. Durkin's film is a reminder that it's not just natural for men to shed tears, but necessary.

The Iron Claw
 is in UK/ROI cinemas from February 9th.



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