Review: ‘The Iron Claw’ is a haunting portrait of wrestling royalty

The Iron Claw is different from the type of film I would typically seek out on my own. I have never been a huge wrestling fan; I have nothing against people who love it, but it isn’t for me. But A24’s involvement is a surefire way to pique my curiosity. At first glance, The Iron Claw is just a wrestling movie starring Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White. However, as you watch it, you learn it’s actually about the numerous tragedies the Von Erich family endured.

The Story of The Iron Claw

The story focuses on the Von Erich family, a dynasty of professional wrestlers from Texas during the 1980s. Their claim to fame was the popularization of the iron claw wrestling hold, made famous by Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the family. While the Von Erichs achieve great success in the ring, what happens outside the ring drives the film’s plot. The Von Erich family believes that they are cursed, and the tragedies that follow certainly make the case for it.

The Pros and Cons of The Iron Claw

While wrestling isn’t my favorite thing to watch, the wrestling in the film looked very authentic. The cast member who played The Sheikh,  Chavo Guerrero Jr., consulted on the movie and helped with the accuracy of the wrestling. Guerrero Jr. is well known in the wrestling world – he’s gone by Kerwin White, Lieutenant Loco, and The Swagger Soaring Eagle during his real-life time in the ring. The Iron Claw shows that wrestling in the 1980s was nothing like how wrestling is now: it was gritty, physical, and violent, more like today’s MMA than WWE. 

The other aspect of the film that stands out is the cast’s commitment to accurate physicality. Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, and Harris Dickinson bulked up for this film big time. We’ve seen Zac Efron in great physical shape before, but this was more intense. White and Dickinson are typically skinny guys, especially White, so seeing them bulked up like this was impressive. This type of physical form looked almost unhealthy, which goes with Fritz’s drive to have his boys be the best wrestlers in the world.

A career defining performance for Zac Efron

For millennials, Zac Efron has been in our lives since he first appeared on the Disney Channel in High School Musical. Since then, at least for me, I’ve been waiting for him to take his acting to the next level. He’s gotten close before with Hairspray and The Greatest Showman, but he’s finally arrived with this film. There’s nothing flashy about his performance (outside of the ring, at least), but there doesn’t need to be; Kevin Von Erich was the most grounded of his siblings and tried his best to keep the family together. Efron gives the best performance I’ve seen of his and could be a sleeper awards contender.

Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in The Iron Claw. Image courtesy of A24.
Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in The Iron Claw. Image courtesy of A24.

On the opposite side of the flashy spectrum, Jeremy Allen White gives it his all as Kerry Von Erich. This works well with the tragedy Kerry suffered in his life, starting with a motorcycle accident that led to an addiction to painkillers. Then we have Harris Dickison’s performance as David Von Erich, which lies right in the middle of Efron and Allen White; David was flashy and big when needed, like Kerry, but also grounded like Kevin because David also wanted to support the family. Dickinson performs well but isn’t quite on the same level as Efron or Allen White.

Great chemistry between Lily James and Zac Efron

Speaking of support, Holt McCallany and Maura Tierney give great performances as Fritz and Doris Von Erich; they have a natural chemistry that makes you believe they’ve been a couple for years. The highlight of the supporting cast, though, is Lily James as Pam Adkisson, Kevin’s wife. Seeing her play a wild Southern girl makes you completely forget her as Cinderella. James also has excellent chemistry with Efron; how they play the relationship from when they start dating to being married for years is believable.

Lily James and Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. Image courtesy of A24.
Lily James and Zac Efron in The Iron Claw. Image courtesy of A24.

Final thoughts on The Iron Claw

Overall, The Iron Claw is a tough film to watch, but it’s an important one to highlight what the Von Erich family has gone through. A24 has a history of releasing quality films, and this one is no exception. Featuring career-best performances from Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen WhiteThe Iron Claw isn’t one for the whole family to see, given the intense subject matter. However, it’s one you should seek out and watch when it arrives in theaters.

The Iron Claw will be in theaters on December 22

The Iron Claw will be in theaters nationwide December 22. Visit the A24 website to buy tickets to the film.

Are you a wrestling fan or are you excited about the movie? Join the conversation by leaving a comment or connecting with us on X @MoviesWeTexted. 

Looking for more awards contenders? Visit all of our awards coverage, including reviews for films likely to be in serious contention at the Academy Awards. Russell Miller just reviewed the film Anatomy of a Fall. 

For more about A24 films, check out our A24 coverage, including pieces on Priscilla, All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, and more.

If you’re in a science fiction mood, check out Elliott’s recent review of Doctor Who Special 3: The Giggle.