The Iron Claw – movie review

The Iron Claw, which is based on a true story, sees a loving family is torn apart by a father’s “win at any cost” mentality.

Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) was a rising star of the wrestling circuit, but didn’t get the chance to be a world champion. Still, it is what continues to drive him and an attitude he imbues into his sons. Married to Doris (Maura Tierney), his mantra is if you are the toughest, strongest and most successful, nothing can ever hurt you. He and Doris had five boys, but the eldest, Jack Junior (Romeo Miloro Newcomer), died when he was just five and a half. Now, the other four – Kevin (Zac Efron), David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike (Stanley Simons) – are destined to follow in dad’s footsteps. Mind you, the end goal is for them to go one better than Fritz, by claiming a world championship belt.

Kevin is top of the heap in Texas and steps into the ring against the reigning world champion in a non-title fight and the sparks fly. It looks like he is about to get his shot at the really big time soon, but that is not how events pan out. In fact, it is his younger sibling David that moves ahead of him in the pecking order. In the meantime, Kevin meets and later marries down to earth Pam (Lily James). Kevin has already raised with Pam what is known as the family curse, which she immediately dismisses. Although tragedy is about to befall the clan, Fritz presses on with his ambitions.

Written and directed by Sean Durkin (The Nest), Iron Claw is hard to watch, as something meant to be positive goes so pear-shaped. Dad’s ambition becomes an ever-tightening noose around the family’s neck. Kevin and his brothers are forever trying to please their father, but as far as dad is concerned nothing but total dedication to the cause is acceptable.

While his character is hardly sympathetic, Holt McCallany impresses with his intense characterisation of a man that refuses to be swayed from his path. In one of the roles of his career, Zac Efron brings sensitivity and heartache to Kevin. Each of the brothers has their vulnerabilities and pitfalls. Lily James is warm and caring as Kevin’s grounded wife. Doris is harder to read as Fritz’s God-fearing wife who sticks by her husband despite the torment she experiences. Maura Tierney channels that dichotomy.

The movie’s title is drawn from Fritz’s signature move in the ring, although given what happens, perhaps The Iron Fist would have been more apt. Tough and unrelenting, The Iron Claw grips and grips hard.

Alex First

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