Going into The Iron Claw, I already knew a bit about the story of the Von Erich family from my love of professional wrestling. The art form/sport is a goldmine for stories like this. When there are triumphs, the highs are high, and when there are heartbreaks, the lows are low. The Von Erich family was one of the biggest in the history of the profession in the early-to-mid 80s. They took over the state of Texas, building a following that would rival any other family in the business then, including the McMahon family.

On the other side of the coin, they’re also one of the most tragic and absolutely heartwrenching stories of loss, grief, heartbreak, and absolutely horrible luck out there. So, naturally, when A24 announced that they were doing a movie called The Iron Claw about the family, I was expecting it to be an absolute tearjerker.

It is an absolute tearjerker, but not in the way you’d think. It’s not just a non-stop flow of sadness. Unlike previous pro wrestling movies, The Iron Claw actually does a magnificent job of conveying just how tragic this story is but leaves the audience with a feeling of serenity. What helps that feeling is that this movie is led by one of the best performances of the year from Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich. Kevin is the oldest of the four Von Erich brothers, with the others (in age order) as Kerry Von Erich, played by Jeremy Allen White, David Von Erich, played by Harris Dickinson, and Michael Von Erich, played by Stanley Simons.

The rest of the Von Erich clan is led by Fritz Von Erich, played by Holt McCallany and Doris Von Erich, played by Maura Tierney. In addition, the movie features Lily James, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Maxwell Jacob Friedman, and Ryan Nemeth.

But What If You Know Nothing About Pro Wrestling?

If you don’t know the difference between a heel and a babyface, what a Lou Thesz press is, or what territories were hot in 1983, you can still get a bunch out of The Iron Claw. This is a pro wrestling movie, but it’s not only a pro wrestling story. The story of an overbearing and “in the glory days” father like Fritz Von Erich is one that plenty of people can relate to. Holt McCallany plays Fritz with a cruel, almost sadistic energy. He’s going to force his sons to achieve what he never could, even if they don’t want to. Some of the things he says to his sons are simply jaw-dropping, including blatant favoritism and other sentiments.

The other Von Erich boys, besides Kevin, are played masterfully by Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, and Jeremy Allen White. White, in particular, plays Kerry Von Erich, arguably the most successful of the four brothers, as incredibly vulnerable. The story never leans on tensions between the brothers getting opportunities very much. Efron’s turn as Kevin Von Erich gets a bit into that being the oldest, but at the heart of it, he just wants his family to be together.

All of the stories told are incredibly tragic in their own ways. The story of Mike Von Erich is easily the most relatable. His dad is an absolute tyrant and crushes any desires he has to go outside of pro wrestling. Because of those behaviors, it spirals Mike’s life out of control. That spiral emanates out into the lives of his brothers, particularly Kerry. Kerry Von Erich went to the WWE and was a successful act in the NWA, but one moment in the film is so jarring and shocking, that it deserves mention. After a gigantic win for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, one choice led to his downward spiral.

Every time something good happens, it feels like an orchestrated moment of horrible bad luck follows for this family. The only relationship and dynamic that shows any sort of joy is between Pam (Lily James) and Kevin. Their relationship is an absolute strength of the film, and between all the darker moments, it’s something that audiences can root for.

The Greatest Pro Wrestling Movie Ever

The pro wrestling action on display in The Iron Claw isn’t quite 1:1 with the actual action, but it does a tremendous job of recreating the environment of an 80s wrestling match. Those matches were lighter on the action we know and love today, but the crowds were hotter. You can feel the tension in the air when David Von Erich looks like he’s going to win. Or when the Von Erich brothers take on heel tag teams in the Sportatorium.

Through it all, The Iron Claw should be horribly depressing and something that you don’t want to relive. But somehow, writer/director Sean Durkin crafted a story that bears all the tragedy of the Von Erich family while still keeping up an attitude of perseverance and hope. Zac Efron gives a career-best performance as Kevin Von Erich and leads one of the best films of the year.

The Iron Claw releases in theaters on December 22nd, 2023.

For more Reviews, make sure to check back to That Hashtag Show.

Keep Reading: