Driven by an ex-wrestler father determined to put his family on the map who runs his own promotion, the Von Erich Brothers compete in the professional wrestling ring, garnering a growing following. But the intense drive of their father and other demons continue to tear away at the young men, struggling to balance their lives with the ongoing struggles both in and out of the ring. Is the family truly cursed, or will they rise above the issues they face along the way, becoming professional wrestling legends?
Given the sheer popularity of professional wrestling, there are surprisingly few films about it (THE WRESTLER from 2008 is probably the best known one). Being a sport that’s visually exciting to watch but has plenty of drama both in and out of the ring can make for an intense and interesting movie, and that’s just what THE IRON CLAW is. It’s a great story with sympathetic and likable characters, which are beautifully balanced by inner and outer demons alike. The movie hits hard, figuratively and literally, and it’s one of the best films of the year.
Coming in, I admittedly was not familiar with most of the cast of this film, outside of Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, probably the closest thing the movie has to a “main” character. And yet, everyone is cast perfectly. Holt McCallany shines as the hard-driving patriarch of the family who has a set vision for his sons’ destinies, and won’t stand for any deviation when it comes to turning his kids into winners, no matter what the cost. What sounds like it could be a brilliant biopic about following one’s dreams quickly becomes something far darker and more disturbing, with tragedies stemming from many sources. If you think wrestling is “fake” and “scripted” and that it’s “not a real sport,” THE IRON CLAW shines light on a side of the story you may not have known. And it does so in a gritty, unflinching fashion.
THE IRON CLAW may very well “get” professional wrestling better than any movie I’ve ever seen. It captures the surface side of wrestling beautifully, from televised feuds and interviews to the matches themselves, right down to the behind-the-scenes aspect that shows the physical and mental toll these men take in the ring, and in their lives outside the squared circle. The screening of the film I saw was a combination of critics and actual wrestlers, and the non-press personnel in the theaters had loud, exasperated reactions to much of what happened in the film. If a movie about wrestlers gets a standing ovation from real wrestlers, that should speak volumes about its impact.
It’s tragic and triumphant at the same time. THE IRON CLAW is the movie professional wrestling fans have been waiting for, shedding light on the Von Erich Brothers, while beautifully exploring themes that ranges from toxic masculinity to coping with one’s family life through turmoil of all kinds. It may not be a perfect film (having to juggle a tale of this many family members is no easy task), but in the long run, THE IRON CLAW is the new champion. Absolute highest recommendations and one of my favorite films of 2023!