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Film Review: THE IRON CLAW (2023): Zac Efron Amazes in Sean Durkin’s Depressing but Well Made Wrestling Drama

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Zac Efron The Iron Claw

The Iron Claw Review

The Iron Claw (2023) Film Review, a movie written and directed by Sean Durkin and starring Zac Efron, Lily James, Harris Dickinson, Jeremy Allen White, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Grady Wilson, Scott Innes, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Stanley Simons, Michael Harney, Jullian Dulce Vida, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Ryan Nemeth, Kevin Anton and Michael Papajohn.

Sean Durkin’s devastating wrestling drama, The Iron Claw, is noteworthy for its towering performance by the always reliable Zac Efron. In Durkin’s movie, Efron (who underwent a tremendous physical challenge to play this role) portrays Kevin Von Erich who was ultimately the sole survivor of a group of four wrestling brothers in a family headed by a man named Fritz (Holt McCallany) who believed that failure was not an option for his boys. This new picture is very thought-provoking and deeply moving at times but falls victim to some standard biopic cliches that throw a wrench in the movie’s dramatics in certain instances which ultimately makes the picture feel more like a made for cable movie than a big screen event.

While there’s no denying the quality of Efron’s performance, he’s surrounded by characters who feel one-dimensional whether they are based on real-life people or not. The very depressing nature of many scenes in the movie makes the viewer wonder why Kevin didn’t go AWOL from his situation way before the death of any of his brothers. The spot-on performance by McCallany makes us realize how Kevin was hoodwinked into believing wrestling was his life’s destiny because McCallany ably plays Fritz as a man hungry for success at any cost. His favorite son, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) was a potential Olympic athlete who lost the opportunity to go forward with that career and fell into the family business of wrestling.

One of Kevin’s brothers, Mike (Stanley Simons) is a sympathetic character but is severely underdeveloped. His musical talents are overlooked by his parents and, as a result, he, too, falls into a dangerous, dire situation. The other brother, David (Harris Dickinson)’s signature movie, “the iron claw,” is duplicated by Kevin in a disturbing scene within the picture which ends up with Kevin being disqualified from a very important match.

The movie works best when it focuses on the love story between Kevin and Pam (Lily James). They meet when Pam asks for an autograph and then asks Kevin for a date. Kevin agrees and they get to know one another over dinner. At this point, Kevin is truly naive and feels so “dumbed down” by the script that some of the meet-cute scenes fall flat. But, the picture picks up the pace and develops the relationship between Kevin and Pam convincingly as they engage in a steamy romance that Fritz even approves of which eventually leads to marriage and a family.

The brothers in The Iron Claw suffer from multiple physical and psychological injuries through their participation in the wrestling that takes place over the course of the film. One brother ends up in a coma at one point, another has a ruptured intestine and at least one of the three ends up killing himself. The tragedy is overwhelming and the movie doesn’t lighten things up much. It’s very heavy. There was a lot of authenticity in the wrestling sequences in this film which helps make the viewer feel immersed in the events that transpire throughout the picture.

Maura Tierney has done better work before than in her role here as the brothers’ long-suffering mother, Doris. When Kevin asks Doris to stick up for Mike, who Kevin feels is being bullied, the mother decides to look the other way. The audience may want to do the same regarding Tierney’s merely adequate performance in the movie. Towards, the end Tierney gets some powerful scenes but it’s an example of too little, too late.

Why is The Iron Claw worth seeing then? Because Zac Efron truly develops his character from something of a naive fool to a fully responsible father and husband. One knows that Kevin loved his brothers through the development of the plot but the viewer will wish that Kevin could have helped them more before it was too late. That’s not to say that anything that happened in the life of these brothers was Kevin’s fault. It was more the father’s constant pushing that led to the inevitable tragic circumstances. Efron disappears into his role and has a strong scene where he grasps his dad’s neck towards the end. It’s dramatic film-making at its most riveting.

Besides Efron, the other actors are decent. White, Dickinson and Simons embody their characters with plausible traits that make it understandable to see how these events could happen in real life. The Von Erich Brothers went down in history as some of the most competitive athletes in the profession of wrestling and it’s a shame their story feels like it was condensed to a limited two-hour format.

Still, Efron is a powerhouse. Almost any other year, he’d be assured of an Oscar nomination. James more than holds her own beside him as she dances at their wedding with James’s signature charm. One is led to believe that Pam is a smart woman right from the introduction of her character and by the late section of the movie, the actress gets some difficult scenes that she handles rather well. She’s certainly the most relatable person in the film.

The Iron Claw is not as well made as Darren Aronofsky’s brilliant The Wrestler. But, it is definitely a handsomely shot production, overall, with a solid cast. Tierney may have had more scenes than the ones that actually made it into the final film, and it’s most likely the sad result of additional editing choices that left her character out of the action for too much of the movie. Despite my reservations with the picture, though, Efron is still a dark horse candidate for an Oscar nod for Best Actor for his very well nuanced performance in an otherwise standard dramatic picture. Efron will have his moment to be recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. If it is for this film then the recognition will certainly be well-deserved.

Rating: 7/10

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