The Iron Claw shines amidst its dark story based on the Von Erich family and their innumerable losses. The story unfolds from the perspective of Kevin (Zac Efron) as he loves and loses his brothers. With an otherworldly quality at times, the film leans into supernatural elements while showing the family curse of parental neglect and pressure. Familial emphasis on God, guns, and wrestling set the stage for a compelling and heartbreaking story of loss in The Iron Claw.
Written and directed by Sean Durkin, the The Iron Claw initially seems to have a tight-knit family built on love and trust. The two parents, Fritz and Doris Von Erich—played by Holt McCallany and Maura Tierney, respectively—discuss their financial difficulties as their two young sons sit in the back of their new vehicle. Cut to years later, and three of the sons remain at home. Kevin (Zac Efron) and David (Harris Dickinson) continue their father’s dream of wrestling.
Meanwhile, their younger brother, Mike (Stanley Simons), pursues music, and their other brother, Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), is away training for the Olympics. While the affection between the siblings remains a constant, the fraying in their relationship with their parents becomes apparent.
The Iron Claw Teases a Supernatural Curse or The Curse of Generational Neglect
Sean Durkin’s light palette gives the film a dreamlike quality, feeling unreal, yet the content starkly contrasts this almost ethereal look at a family imploding. Narrator Kevin talks of a family curse, but the movie leaves this up to the audience, showcasing the neglect and pressure that becomes a curse all their own. Here is a family where favoritism is natural—outright stated and used as a carrot on a stick. As their father warns them at breakfast, the positions can always change.
Tacked onto that, the parents share similar sentiments to other parents, opting for a hands-off approach to raising. Their father is for training, their mother for God, and anything else the parents expect the brothers to handle. After all, that’s why they have siblings, Doris tells Kevin when he asks her to speak with her. The Iron Claw shows the detriment when prioritizing a parents’ dream—where love, however meager, is conditional.
Strong Performances With Efron Being a Stand Out
The cast brings captivating performances, bringing their respective characters to life. Holt McCallany shows the switch-up, or more blend, of a loving father to his young sons. But even then, he drills that physical strength makes a man. Despite limited time onscreen, Maura Tierney also delivers a tragic and enraging character. Jeremy Allen White is phenomenal, as are Harris Dickinson and Stanley Simons. Zac Efron’s Kevin is the person viewers travel alongside in this journey. Lily James as Kevin’s partner, Pam, is outstanding as a foundation of love, care, and reason.
Many fans of Efron have waited for him to get a role that can showcase the skill they know lies within him. Kevin Von Erich is that role. Efron brings a focus that shines through each emotion the character experiences. The heaviness of living up to their father’s expectations, the weight of being a parent, and the emotional support for his siblings all play across the screen. Efron’s face, mannerisms, and delivery show that strain while juggling a family of his own and the irrefutable fact that he should not have to.
A Critique of Gender-Based Roles
Ultimately, The Iron Claw is about Kevin’s emotional journey. It comes with joy, grief, rage, and learning how to be a man while unlearning the harmful lessons his parents instilled. In 2024, some still believe crying is in a woman’s wheelhouse and strength and anger are for men. Being unable to shed tears after suffering a tragedy compounds the losses the Von Erichs suffer in the film. When someone cannot share grief among loved ones, it festers instead. The Iron Claw takes some liberties in the factual tale and omits other tragedies.
While some might not agree, the losses in the movie are enough to highlight the point. Toxic pressures on men can lead to a destructive and gut–wrenching path. The Iron Claw is a signature move for the Von Erichs wrestling performance. But the film and Kevin reclaim it. Efron’s Kevin shows a resiliency that surpasses the physical. The Iron Claw is an outstanding film tied firmly with spectacular performances speaking to societal issues of manhood. Plus, one never tires of the Blue Oyster Cult classic, though this might be one of the saddest and prophetic—for those who don’t know their story—uses of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.”