The Iron Claw Review

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Rating: 3.5/5

Synopsis:

Zac Efron takes a turn with a powerful performance here. He stars as Kevin, one of the four Von Erich brothers. Their family is very close, where competitive wrestling is the name of the game. Their father pushes them to their limits, where tragedy and loss surrounds the family throughout their journey to the top. Will this success and drive push the brothers too far?

Positives: 

I was surprised to see A24 attempt to tackle a wrestling drama. The subject matter didn’t seem like it was niche enough to fit their storytelling style. But I was surprised to find director Sean Durkin handling the material in an intimate and thoughtful way. This larger than life story is stripped back to focus on the brothers in this family. Each provides a different role in this family dynamic that thrives on success and competition. What I found so interesting about the story is how each brother handles this rigorous lifestyle differently. Kevin enjoys the competition, but has aspirations of a family outside the ring. Kerry, the distant but fierce competitor, has his own way of coping with the pressure. While David’s role is shorter, he thrives the most with the showmanship and public relations side. But Mike is the most isolated, where his creative side puts him at odds with their father. But no matter what happens, the brothers are there to back each other up. I enjoyed seeing that deep down they are simple men who want what’s best for their families. They are all just people, which their father fails to realize. 

The film has a surprisingly creative approach. The cinematography and color grading make for an artistic addition to the dramatic athletic aspect. This was a nice change of pace from other sports movies released in recent years. We see an intimate approach to the central characters that is interested in examining the pressure from their father rather than the fighting sequences (which are very well shot). Performances across the board are good, but Zac Efron and Holt McCallany are the ones to highlight. McCallany plays the tough father who puts glory over the wellbeing of his sons very well. After seeing him in Mindhunter, I had no doubt he would be a great choice for the role. But Efron turns in what might be the best performance of his career. He has a restraint to the character that makes us wonder what is going on inside of his head. But the moments where he reveals his concerns about the direction of the family were quite powerful. Efron’s performance alone is worth the price of admission.

Negatives:

“The Iron Claw” has earned a lot of praise upon its release. While I enjoyed the change of pace in the sports genre, I found myself at arm’s length with many of the characters. Outside of Efron and McCallany, I didn’t feel like we got to know the rest of the characters very well. Their development is pretty surface level, so when trauma hits their family, the emotional punch doesn’t hit as hard. This is a fundamental issue because the film is all about loss and the toxic environment the father created for his kids. So if we don’t feel the weight of this loss when bad things happen to the brothers, that is very disappointing as a viewer. 

This might be a personal gripe, but since the style of fighting these brothers competed in was largely fixed, it was hard to get invested in the wrestling scenes. The real life WWE is also scripted, so perhaps my lack of investment stems from that too. When competition is so important to the brothers and their father, I feel like real fighting would have raised the emotional stakes for the audience. The Rocky franchise utilized brutal competition with high emotional stakes better. 

Conclusion: 

What largely flew under the radar until awards season is an engaging character study within a loyal family. The film is well shot with a unique approach to what could have been a story that falls into mediocrity. Zac Efron gives a performance that could open so many opportunities for him moving forward. While some of the characters were underdeveloped, further exploration into their perception of events could have been helpful. But that shouldn’t deter anyone from checking this one out.