Professional wrestling is both an exaggeration and a cover-up of pain. The blows given do not hurt as much as the fighters claim and they do not display the real suffering that afflicts them.
In The Iron Claw, Canadian director and screenwriter Sean Durkin shows that the pain of these athletes is constant and in the case of the Von Erich family, it is ever-present.
Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) was a talented wrestler who was robbed – he says – of the opportunity to climb the highest peaks in the business. His four sons were born with the burden of achieving them for him. Kevin (Zach Effron), the oldest, has the discipline and physique to make his father’s dreams come true. But he lacks the killer instinct. David (Harris Dickinson) doesn’t have it either, but his confidence and charisma make up for it. Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), who was heading towards another career, finds himself in the ring like a fish to water. Passionate about music, the youngest Mike (Stanley Simons) imitates his brothers despite himself.
In late 1970s Texas as portrayed by Sean Durkin, religion reigns, patriarchal law is unquestionable, and fists settle disputes, all while entertaining the crowds attending Word Class Championship Wrestling galas. Exemplary in all these areas, the Von Erich family collapses under the pressure of the father and the rivalry he fuels between his sons. The curse of which they claim to be victims only exacerbates their torment.
By simply telling the sad story of the Von Erichs, The Iron Claw is captivating. We can only sympathize with these four brothers and their mother. The production is judiciously sober and linear. The intensity of the fight scenes is enough to vary the pace. Although the subject matter lends itself to it, the camerawork is overly dramatic at times. The choice of songs is often successful, sometimes too obvious. The original music, composed by Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire, is absolutely spot on.
The interpretation is the great strength of the film, which lasts just over two hours. Holt McCallany (Mindhunter) aptly plays a toxic man who is unaware of his family’s plight. Zac Efron’s (High School Musical) restrained performance is just as impressive as his exceptional physique. Also in great form, Jeremy Allen White (The Bear) makes the impulsiveness of Kerry, aka The Texas Tornado, credible. The other two brothers are more subdued, but no less convincing. The family had a fifth son, Chris, who was left out of the storyline, however.
Note that in this work overflowing with testosterone, the essential roles of Maura Tierney, the mother of the clan, and Lily James, Kevin’s wife, bring comfort and reason to a world which is otherwise deprived of it.