An epic, melancholic family dynasty that shows former High School Musical alumnus Zac Efron in a new light, The Iron Claw impresses with its emotional, as well as physical, bodyslams. The film, based on a true story, follows the Von Erich clan: a family of wrestling brothers ruled over by their embittered father, played by the excellent Holt McCallany (Mindhunter). The wrestling industry failed him and he has taken it out on his children, desperate for them to succeed and strike back at the corporation he believed passed him over.
His four boys – Kevin (a soulful, stoic Zac Efron), Kerry (played by The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White), Mike (Stanley Simons) and David (Harris Dickinson) – are all dutifully trying to impress their father. Efron looks like a He-Man doll ridiculously buff and sporting a 70s haircut; Allen White is a determined Olympic-level discus thrower who didn’t get to compete; Dickinson plays the showman, easily slipping into wrestling patter, whereas Simons wants to become a musician – much to the concern of his father. There is also another, missing, brother who died as a child and whose tragedy hangs heavy over a family that believes itself cursed.
What happens during the film adds to that narrative, with terrible events unfurling amidst the brothers as they struggle to reach the heights of wrestling via some brutally choreographed encounters. Efron is the one who starts to feel uncomfortable with his father’s mantle and drive, but still jostles with his brothers for attention. Writer/director Sean Durkin’s sparse script allows the actors to flex their muscles, again both emotional and physical, with each delivering excellent performances.
Durkin takes a leap up from excellent dramas Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Nest – also about dysfunctional families – with this examination of masculinity and emotional claustrophobia, and it will be a very hard heart left unmoved by the climax. Like the skull-crushing move, originated by the Von Erich patriarch, whose name gives The Iron Claw its title, this film holds you tightly in its grip throughout.
Dir: Sean Durkin (15, 132 mins)
The Iron Claw is in cinemas from Fri 9 Feb
words KEIRON SELF