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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

‘The Iron Claw’ wrestles with the pain of what could’ve been

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Connor Youngberg

“The Iron Claw,” a harrowing sports drama based on the true story of a cursed wrestling family, is the latest film from A24. While the studio is most well-known for its hard-hitting horror features like “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” this marks another successful and heavily emotional foray into a different subgenre for the company.

This film follows the Von Erich family throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s as brothers Kevin (Zac Efron), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanley Simons) try to make it in the world of professional wrestling. They are coached by their father Fritz (Holt McCallany), who gives them the toughest love possible to ensure their success.

The first half of this movie is a wrestling fan’s dream. The fight sequences are extremely well done thanks to stunt coordinator Chavo Guerrero Jr., a former professional wrestler. Current All Elite Wrestling stars Maxwell Jacob Friedmann (MJF) and Ryan Nemeth also make cameos.

However, things take a turn when the famous “Von Erich curse” makes its presence known. When Fritz changes his last name to Von Erich, his mother’s maiden name, tragedy begins to follow them. Kevin explains to his then-girlfriend Pam (Lily James) that the curse started with his oldest brother Jack Jr., who was electrocuted and then died at six years old.

After all the triumphs and championships of the opening act of the film, the dominos begin to fall when David travels to Japan for a match and never comes home. With the exception of Pam and Kevin’s wedding, the rest of the film is a bleak series of death and disaster that pulls no punches.

While the entire cast puts on incredibly memorable performances, I felt this served as a breakout role for Efron, despite being 36 years old and an actor for over 20 years. He absolutely shines as the last living Von Erich brother, highlighted by a deeply emotional scene with his children late in the film.

White made the leap to the big screen after making a name for himself in TV shows like “Shameless” and Hulu’s “The Bear,” which he recently won an Emmy for. His scenes as Kerry are some of the most touching in the film, and I doubt this will be the last we see of him in full-length features.

Though not featured in the cast list, the music in this movie plays a pivotal role. Rush’s iconic ‘80s hit “Tom Sawyer,” the Von Erichs’ real-life entrance music, is used in a fun transition moment that takes us from watching the brothers train to seeing them hitting the ring.

John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” is featured in one of the last lighthearted scenes in the film, Kevin and Pam’s wedding. Besides being a sweet family moment, this also showed that Efron certainly did not forget his dance moves from when he starred in “Hairspray” and the “High School Musical” triology.

All visual media has the power to impact lives and change viewpoints, and I think “The Iron Claw” will do that for a lot of people. This is a sports story on the surface, but at its core, it’s all about family.

Fritz clearly pressures his sons far too much throughout the film to live his dream of being a world-famous wrestler, something that they don’t feel as passionately about as he does. 

They do have other dreams, though — Mike loves to play music in his band and Kerry is a track and field star hoping to make it to the Olympics. But to Fritz, his kids aren’t good enough. 

However, the real Kevin  Von Erich said recently on the “Talk Is Jericho” podcast that the film portrayed his father inaccurately and that he was an “honorable, good man” who comes off too harsh on screen. While he thinks that drugs and medical issues were what pushed his brothers to commit suicide, the movie certainly implies that Fritz was a factor.

Regardless of what happened to the real-life Von Erich family, A24’s interpretation of its story serves as a reminder to support the ones you love and uplift them regardless of if their aspirations are different than yours. It will also hopefully open the door for more movies and TV shows based on real-life wrestling stories, dipping into the rich history of such a dark yet glorious sport and form of entertainment.

Despite not receiving any Oscar nominations (and being absolutely snubbed, in my opinion), I think “The Iron Claw” will go down as one of the best sports dramas ever. Even if it doesn’t, and its only impact is that a few people hug their siblings tighter or remind them how much they love them, I think the Von Erich family would be happy with that outcome in the end.

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Connor Youngberg, Associate Multimedia Editor

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