The Iron Claw Review – Zac Efron Gives Best Performance of the Year

The Iron Claw Review FandomWire
The Iron Claw Review FandomWire
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In early November I had the opportunity to attend the world premiere of The Iron Claw in Dallas, Texas. A24 and Sean Durkin join together to tell the story of one of the most talented yet haunting families in the world of professional wrestling, The Von Erichs. As you read through the review, you will see how the film connects with me personally, along with my thoughts on whether you should check it out.

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The Iron Claw Plot

A Still from The Iron Claw
A Still from The Iron Claw

The world of professional wrestling isn’t something new to me. I grew up in a household where my father, from San Antonio, Texas, was a professional wrestler who spent many years wrestling amongst the Von Erichs. Like many fathers, I would hear stories about his time in the ring and locker rooms. That era was filled with the likes of Andre the Giant, Ric Flairs, and the birth of Hulk Hogan.

The story that always stuck with me is one of the Von Erichs. A group of five brothers who, like their father, entered the squared circle to become professional wrestlers. Of course, growing up, I saw the Texas Tornado (Kerry Von Erich) wrestle many times. I wasn’t too familiar with the rest of the brothers, minus the stories my dad would tell me.

Heading into The Iron Claw, I was equally excited and scared because the Von Erich story deserves a great film and a great homage while showing a new generation the history of this family and garnering new fans.

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The Critique

Zac Efron
Zac Efron in The Iron Claw

Also Read: What Happened to Zac Efron? The Iron Claw Star Reveals “Biggest Injury” of his Career

The film starts with Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) on the chase to become the NWA Heavyweight Champion, the most prestigious title in professional wrestling. However, no matter how hard he works, it never comes to fruition. As a result, he makes it his lifelong mission to bring that NWA title into the Von Erich household.

Fast forward, and Fritz is running World Class Championship Wrestling, where wrestling matches are held at the Dallas Sportarium. He has built the promotion to such a grand level that ESPN comes knocking on his door for a TV deal. This all helps elevate the brand and the possibility of bringing the NWA champion Harley Race into town to take on David (Harris Dickinson), his hand-chosen son, to bring home that NWA championship.

Before I go any further, the writer/director Sean Durkin spends a good portion of the first act introducing us to those expectations from Fritz. However, he also peels back the layers of the brothers’ bond, showing how much they love one another. Kevin (Zac Efron), David (Harris Dickinson) and Mike (Stanely Simmons) all faced those high expectations from their father. Even early in the film, we hear Fitz rank his sons in order of his favorite. At the time, Kerry was his favorite because he was off training for the upcoming Olympics.

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The importance of Durkin showing this bond early on sets the stage for the tragic back half of the movie due to the well-known history of the Von Erichs.

Alright, back to the ring and the NWA Heavyweight Championship match between Harley Race and Kevin Von Erich. Now, the match is a “non-title” match (meaning if Kevin wins, he doesn’t win the title), but Fritz knows that a title match could happen if Kevin puts on a good match. Everything goes off without a hitch, and the match plays out according to plan, but what happens in the post-match changes the course of history for the Von Erich brothers. 

Kevin Von Erich wins by disqualification, and after the match, Kevin takes the mic to call out Harley Race, stating how much he wants a title match. As Kevin struggles ever so slightly, David takes the mic and cuts a hell of a promo on Race, which impresses Fritz.

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Once President Carter declares that the United States would not participate in the 1980 Olympics, Kerry returned home. Fritz decides that Kerry needs to get in the ring alongside his brothers, which makes Kerry super pumped. One night, Fritz tells the brothers that a title match is on the horizon, and Kevin thinks it’s his time to shine again. Except, Fritz announces that David will be feuding for the title, and also heading to tour Japan.

Although the timeline doesn’t line up perfectly, for the film’s purposes, this is the beginning of the downfall and what’s known as the Von Erich family curse.

The massive gut punch of hearing his father say David’s name changes Kevin. He turns from a larger-than-life superstar to someone who feels like they’re taking punch after punch after punch. This shift in character is where we see Efron take this performance to a level that many thought he was capable of but he’d never been given the chance to dive into.

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Iron Claw
Iron Claw

Durkin allows Efron to explore his dramatic acting ability in Kevin, leading to the best performance of his career. The story of the Von Erichs is tragic, so as we see Kevin throughout the last hour of this film deal with the loss of brother after brother, Kevin starts to lose his sense of life. Efron’s ability to capture this with such empathy, not just in his words but in his posture, voice and eyes, devastates you. It’s not only Efron’s best performance but also the best performance of 2023.

You can’t rant and rave about Efron without talking about the great ensemble that elevated his performance. From White to Dickinson to Simmons, these men brought the Von Erich brotherly dynamic to the screen brilliantly. Much of the credit belongs to Durkin because of the depth of his writing within the characters. First, he highlights Kerry’s struggles after his accident and his inability to escape “the curse” within his own mind. Then David is always seen trying to live up to his father’s expectations, until it ultimately got the best of him. With Mike, he never wanted to step foot in the ring, and because he did, his life changed forever. 

Speaking of Durkin, upon my rewatch of The Iron Claw, I couldn’t help but notice the little things he did right, not just with the story of the Von Erichs, but his attention to detail with the callbacks. You see an opening sequence in the trailer of the brother playing football that Durkin uses later in the movie that has so much power. Those small things make what Durkin brought to the table so special.

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Outside of those little details, the one BIG detail that Durkin got right was the in-ring wrestling. So many have tried to get the wrestling right in movies over the years, and so many have failed. Durkin, a fan of professional wrestling, set the bar high for future films in this space with his attention to detail. When Chavo Guerrero told me he only had three weeks to get the cast acquainted with the squared circle, I was blown away. Durkin relied heavily on guys like Chavo to ensure the wrestling was done right. This included Efron, White and Dickinson having to wrestle FULL matches, not just little moments. Because of this, we have the most authentic portrayal of in-ring wrestling we’ve seen in a movie yet.

I’d love to point out a few other things about what made The Iron Claw great, including Matthew Hannam’s editing and Mátyás Erdély’s cinematography work. As great of a job as Durkin does throughout the film, Hannam’s ability to put these pieces together the way he did on the editing room floor blew me away. It has some of the most stunning transitions and shots in any film this year.

As for Erdély, he might have had one of the most challenging jobs behind the camera. You have to understand that he infused this film with the vibrancy of the family’s highs, whether in the ring or out, and the tragic lows of the family.

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In Conclusion

If you’ve made it this far, you can probably tell that I have a massive passion for The Iron Claw. I can’t recommend checking this movie out enough, especially on the big screen. I can’t thank Durkin and this entire cast enough for bringing the Von Erich story to life in this delicate and breathtaking way. This film was made with love and compassion, and it translates on the big screen as it is one of the year’s best films. 

The Iron Claw is an incredibly shot piece of cinema. Zac Efron gives the best performance of the year. The entire ensemble plays a pivotal role in making this film great. Sean Durkin masters the Von Erich family story in and out of the ring.

9/10

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Written by Ricky Valero

Articles Published: 17

Ricky Valero is based in Nashvile, TN. He has a huge passion for film and tv. He is a proud member of the Critics Choice Association . While not watching movies, he has a huge love for crappy reality dating shows.