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Home > ‘The Iron Claw’ (2023): A Review

‘The Iron Claw’ (2023): A Review

“The Iron Claw” (2023): A Review

The Year’s Most Tragic and Heartfelt Story

Inspirational sports films are a dime a dozen. They typically follow the same generic underdog formula and rarely feel unique. However, occasionally a sports drama comes around and feels fresh and distinct from the rest of the over-saturated genre. When whittling the genre down into individual sports, wrestling and other fighting-type sports films also include their own set of overused tropes that are forced into every film. Nonetheless, A24’s new film The Iron Claw showed there is still room for ingenuity within stale genres. 


The Iron Claw tells the true story of the Von Erich family, a wrestling dynasty that made a name for themselves in the world of professional wrestling during the 1980s. While the brothers were each striving to achieve their own goals, they found themselves struggling to withstand the pressure from their domineering father.

A Biblical Tale of Tragedy

How the film builds up its story of triumph and tragedy, there becomes an almost biblical sense to its narrative. By focusing heavily on the brothers and the relationships between themselves, as well as with their father, it feels like a narrative ripped out of the Old Testament, making the story feel timeless and familiar.

Through its tale of tragedy, The Iron Claw tackles difficult themes while still portraying a positive outlook in the end. While the movie does involve themes about the love of wrestling, it never feels weighed down by the sport. The best sports movies typically are those where viewers don’t have to be a fan of the sport to connect with the story, and luckily The Iron Claw chooses this route. The wrestling aspect of the film never felt like it hindered the story, as it utilizes it to amplify the themes of family and masculinity.  

An All-Star Cast

Leading the film is Zac Efron as Kevin Von Erich, the second brother in the Von Erich family. While Efron has provided great performances in the past, such as in his comedy work like Neighbors, or some of his other dramatic films, such as Extremely Wicked, Shocking Evil and Vile, his work in The Iron Claw turns out to be his best performance yet. Efron doesn’t pull any punches in terms of emotional reactions, portraying the constant burdens Kevin endures as constant tragedy bestows him.

“The Iron Claw” (2023): A Review
Zac Efron in “The Iron Claw” | Image: A24

A highlight of the film is Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich. White is given a tough role to play, as Kerry begins with many triumphs, only to quickly suffer just as many tragedies. White pulls off the quick escalation into the deep despair Kerry endures while still making a complex character. As for the rest of the cast, there isn’t a single weak link. All of the characters show their many layers – flaws and all – allowing each actor to draw audiences into the engrossing story. 

Over-Stuffing the Plot

A drawback of the film comes down to the story. While the movie still has one of the best scripts of the year, it almost feels as if the story would have been better suited for a miniseries rather than a film. There are times when the story rushes through certain aspects or glosses over what could have been important parts for the sake of time. This becomes evident when trying to examine the timeline of when all the events occur. In some moments, it feels as if scenes are occurring near one another, only for the next scene to seemingly jump over large amounts of time. 

While films based on true stories can’t include all details and are forced to be picky with what is included, parts of this story feel too necessary not to be included but end up being left out. For example, in real life, there were six Von Erich brothers, whereas the film only depicts five. Whatever the reasoning was for excluding one brother, whether it was for time sake or not wanting to add another tragic story on top of an already heavy movie, it feels strange not including him. If the reasoning is due to cutting the plot down for a time, it highlights the issue the movie has with its story. By trying to include countless different elements of this grand narrative, it seemed to bite off more than it could chew. By whittling down certain less important parts, it could have allowed for more focus on the rest of the story. 

A Throwback to the ‘80s

Apart from the narrative aspects, the technical portions of the film helped add a distinct feel to it. Through the cinematography, look, color grading, mise en scene, and soundtrack, it helped immerse the viewer into the ‘80s. It feels like a product of the time period. While many sports dramas typically are period pieces, The Iron Claw basks in its era more so than any other movie by not being afraid to take any opportunity to lean into the nostalgia of the ‘70s and ‘80s. 

Despite being a heavy film dealing with countless difficult subject matters, the movie cautiously handles the storytelling to generate something valuable. Each character is fleshed out enough to make the cautionary tale of tragedy more emotional and impactful. As for the wrestling portions of the story, they rarely feel like they’d alienate anyone from connecting with the film or lead them to feel as if they are left behind for not understanding the sports side of the film. Despite being slightly rushed, it proved to be a great bookend for the films in 2023. 

The Iron Claw is currently playing in theaters.

“The Iron Claw” (2023): A Review
Jeremy Allen White in “The Iron Claw” | Image: A24

The Iron Claw (2023) Official A24 Trailer

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Mason Kupiainen is a recent Butler University graduate with a degree in Creative Media and Entertainment. His work has been published in Butler Collegiate, The Mall, and Byte BSU. Along with written work, he has a videography portfolio with Indy Blue Video, Byte BSU, and Ball Bearings.

Cailen Fienemann is a current student at Le Moyne College pursuing her BA in English and Communications with a film studies minor and a creative writing concentration.  Though uncertain about her career end-goals, any job that allows her to write is a cherished one indeed.