The Iron Claw | Fresh Takes

Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.

Nico, Lluis & Guy

07 Feb 24

Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas. 

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Here are some Fresh Takes on The Iron Claw, the story of the Von Erich brothers, who set out to make history in the intensely competitive world of professional wrestling in the early 1980s.

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Nico, 22

Nico is a final-year Modern Language and Management studies student at the University
of East Anglia with an interest in thought-provoking thrillers and biographical films. 

Nico says...

A tale of grief, struggle and family, The Iron Claw is a film that will have you rethinking one's views of wrestling and what goes on behind the scenes.

Upon watching a trailer for the movie, I was originally concerned that the focus would be far too much on the fighting aspect and would be simply surface-level. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is not the case. Yes, there are a lot of fighting scenes, but they are done tremendously well, and you can feel the emotion in them – it's so much more than mindless fighting.

The Von Erich family's story is tragic and puts strain on the strong bond that we see between Kevin, Kerry, Michael and David. You get to see into the lives of the family and learn about why they push themselves so hard. Together, they struggle to overcome the generational trauma that has plagued them. I was particularly struck by the performance of Jeremy Allen White as Kerry Von Erich, perfectly executing scenes of raw emotion and despair.

Aesthetically, the movie captures the period it is trying to imitate flawlessly and shows an exemplary command of colour. Overall, The Iron Claw is a visual delight and makes you wonder: how far would you go to gain your father's approval?

Lluis Abbou Planisi, 24

Mallorcan-born cinephile who relocated to England for studies, with a passion for tense, passionate and emotional films and a particular fondness for James Bond.

Lluis says...

In the '70s and '80s, the Von Erichs graced the wrestling stage, still revered today as the best. Kicking off with the patriarch, Fritz, in the '50s, his progeny —David, Kerry, Mike (and Chris, whom the film forgets)— joined the familial fray. As the saying goes, a family that dropkicks together sticks together; The Iron Claw is an ensemble movie.

Holt McCallany assumes the role of the dad, Harris Dickinson embodies David, Jeremy Allen White steps into the shoes of Kerry, Stanley Simons portrays Mike and the brawny Zac Efron grapples with the role of Kevin, with Lily James as his spouse and saviour, Pam.

Efron's Herculean physique transforms him into a god. The poignant, lost look in his eyes, especially around his dad, portrays him as a lad perilously feigning adulthood. Striking a delicate balance, Efron encapsulates the essence of Kevin's motivations —love, discipline, worry and fear— firmly anchoring the film. Steeped in drama and tragedy, The Iron Claw does occasionally succumb to a shortage of character exploration, trading development for historical narrative.

Director Sean Durkin's visual approach injects wrestling scenes with chaotic intensity, as the camera quickly moves past and around the actors. He also crafts suggestive, haunting images outside the ring. The film's narrative unfolds as a tale of redemption, less preoccupied with pinning down adversaries and more fixated on dismantling pernicious cycles. While occasionally it meanders, this melodrama leaves an indelible mark: a story that lingers in the recesses of one's consciousness.

Guy Barnsley, 24

Guy is a film production graduate who spends too much time watching films rather than making them.

Guy says...

The Iron Claw opens on an empty wrestling ring which fades into a nightmarish close-up of Fritz Von Erich, drenched in sweat, exerting all his terrifying strength. Shot in black and white and slow motion (à la Raging Bull), Holt McCallany's Fritz is more beast than man. This savage image lingers in our minds for the remaining runtime, just as Fritz looms over his sons' shoulders in their journey to take over the wrestling world.

We largely follow the perspective of Kevin (Zac Efron), the eldest brother. There's a lot of compassion in him, even tenderness, despite his brawn. Seeking the pride of their father, who treats his children as an officer treats his regiment, the tight-knit Von Erich brothers pursue the championship, a title tragically intended for the individual, demanding their brotherhood splinter.

While Zac Efron delivers great subtlety in his performance, the filmmaking often leaves us with the sense that his internal struggle is divorced from the unfolding plot, with events simply flowing over Kevin placidly while his thoughts are troubled by something unknowable. Although there was an opportunity for this conflict to be further explored, The Iron Claw makes clear that bonding with the ones you love will always trump the thrill of personal victory. The nightmare vision of the opening scene is firmly purged with a sincere image of what truly matters most.

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