Today: June 12, 2024

The Iron Claw

The Iron Claw director Sean Durkin is a strangely below the radar filmmaker. When he really shouldn’t be. His first two features, Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest are both of an incredibly high standard in the recent cinematic output of mainstream films. Add to his stellar work on TV shows such as Southcliffe and Dead Ringers and you get the impression Durkin is a filmmaker very particular about the projects he embarks on. 

If you don’t know anything about the true story upon which The Iron Claw is based, this is the best way to approach Durkin’s film. Because while those who know the story of the Von Erich family will certainly take a great deal from the film, those coming to it cold will be blown away by the sheer impact of the story it presents. 

The Von Erich family are a Texas based dynasty of athletes mainly in the field of professional wrestling. Having never quite had the career he dreamed of, father Fritz (Holt McCallany) is determined that one of his sons will rise to the top of the sport. Kevin (Zac Efron) is already on the circuit and rising fast. David (Harris Dickinson) is an up and coming pro while Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is training for the Olympics. Youngest Mike (Stanley Simmons) is less interested in the sport but will soon find himself drawn in. Crucially, the Von Erich’s believe there is a family curse that means tragedy often follows them. Something they believe they can overcome through determination and hardwork.

Speaking with IndieWire in 2011 Durkin said, “I’m attracted to fear.” and this is a thread through all of his work. It’s not that he makes horror films, although he has dabbled with the genre, but more that his films are shrouded in a sense of impending dread. The Iron Claw is no exception and as such an incredibly tense watch. The film starts as a sports film, the Von Erich’s rising up through the wrestling ranks and experiencing fame, then morphs into a family drama before culminating in an almost Shakespearian tragedy.

Throughout it is at its most captivating when dealing with the family dynamic. We learn early on that the family is seeped in grief having lost their firstborn child when now eldest Kevin was only a toddler himself. But it is the toxic masculinity on display from father Fritz that shapes the brothers. His refusal to allow displays of emotion, his open stance of his ‘ranking’ of favoured sons over a family breakfast immediately sets alarm bells ringing.

But because of this drill sergeant like figure in their lives the brothers form an unbreakable bond. Even when pitted against each other the power of the film lies in watching them rally around each other. Until… and it is at this point that Durkin’s nostalgic summer hue becomes all the more tortuous. And as proceedings become hard to bear so the performances become all the more powerful. 
Dickinson continues his rise to inevitable stardom, seemingly able to mix genuine acting talent with matinee idol good looks. Here it often feels like he’s injecting David with a sense of false confidence, that really he’s a shy guy who knows what is expected of him. Allen White demonstrates that his performance in TV hit The Bear is no one-off, his Kerry being the most confident yet clearly damaged of the brothers. But it’s Efron, looking the size of about 8 of his former selves, that is captivating as Kevin. The eldest (living) sibling he takes on the role of leader and then cheerleader, his story and emotional weight is what the film hangs its investment in most strongly and Efron shows that he is more than able to take the load in an easily career best performance.

A haunting, nostalgic and deeply tragic story, The Iron Claw hooks you in and tells an incredible story without feeling the need to be gratuitous. Durkin continues to be a fascinating filmmaker, let’s hope we get another film from him sooner rather than later.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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