Pro wrestling, as a film medium, really doesn’t have many titles to select from or it lacks quality produced films to enjoy. Personally, I felt “The Wrestler” was the best portrayal of wrestling at the movies and remains the #1 wrestling movie ever made. That said, “The Iron Claw” is an overall good movie though you should adjust your expectations heading into the film. If you’re expecting something like recent biographies like Queen, Elton John, or Elvis but spread across all Von Erich brothers, I’d reduce said expectations. This film felt more like a biography film of Kevin Von Erich, who is sadly the last of the brothers still alive.
I should suggest “spoilers ahead” in my review, but if you’ve been a wrestling fan for a while, you know their sad story quite well.
Overall, I enjoyed the movie experience of The Iron Claw… Great acting, mostly great casting, and they had a metric ton to cover. That said, I felt that it was missing key and tragic moments of the Von Erichs while the in-ring segments felt a bit light or a letdown.
While the movie runs at just over 2 hours, I felt the beginning was a tad slow and they had more emphasis on family rather than the competitive world of pro wrestling. Which again, that is why I emphasize changing your expectations from an overall Von Erich movie to the biography of Kevin. If you do that, I feel, you’ll enjoy the movie. I felt a tad letdown walking out of the movie theater, but have increasingly liked the move as I began to think about it through the lens of Kevin Von Erich. Specifically, he’s the last brother alive and the one got to experience being a family man himself.
One point that the film got across, however, was how questionable Fritz and Doris Von Erich were portrayed as parents. We saw it on television through World Class, as he seemed to milk every tragedy… But I was shocked at how Doris was portrayed, as she initially told the Kevin character “brothers can handle it among themselves” for any issues the brothers had and Fritz would later repeat that opinion. Even as each kid died, the parents were heartless as the pro wrestling business seemed to be the kind that they truly loved.
Speaking of kids, the damn movie actually excluded one of the brothers that could have made this movie become even more emotional than it possibly was. Chris Von Erich was excluded from this movie entirely and that baffles me. From what I understand, the movie producers morphed Mike and Chris together, but that’s not fair. Both kids had their own issues and pressures that led to their tragic deaths, but to exclude one of them is a bit disrespectful to the Von Erich family. After all, Chris’s death may have added on guilt for Kerry’s suicide but also became the breaking point of Fritz and Doris separating and divorcing through 1992. Chris tried to be a wrestler, too, but just wasn’t physically fit for the part.
There was a lot more that they could have leaned into the careers and circumstances surrounding their deaths of David and Kerry, too, but my guess is that Kevin didn’t want to turn over those rocks. Kerry’s career, especially, is incredibly tragic as they could have followed up the big NWA Title win against Flair to why he may have lost the NWA Title. Instead, he hops on a motorcycle and we immediately show the foot amputation. Kerry won that NWA Title in 1984 yet the film makes you assume that a motorcycle accident caused him to lose that title. Nope, reported circumstances of Kerry missing dates and Ric Flair has said that Kerry was “out of it” for their rematches. Kerry lost his foot in 1986, so thus the film made things confusing.
I also wonder if the Lance Von Erich stuff was cut from the movie. Lance was the “cousin” character that was created, but he was acting as their cousin and was no relation. I thought the film lost a major opportunity to portray Fritz as a careless dad, creating a cousin Von Erich to fill the spot of his deceased son Mike. MJF was reportedly cast to play this role, but you only see him wrestling in a highlight and Lance isn’t even touched, at all, in the film. Missed opportunity for storytelling and also getting some mainstream publicity of having MJF’s role increased in the film.
Heading into this film, we repeatedly heard how Chavo Guerrero and others trained the actors heavily yet the cinematography of this film doesn’t let the actors shine. The action is either heavily zoomed in or heavily zoomed out. When zoomed out, the crowd shots make the arenas or stadiums look very empty while the action inside the ring was quite blurry. I don’t know if these camera tricks were intended to protect the actors from looking odd as wrestlers but I’ve seen other films portray wrestling better with actors. The GLOW series, for example, made those actresses look great as wrestlers.
But I was also disturbed by the LACK of wrestling… We have the big match between Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich, yet they showed NONE of it. Not one second… They quickly rushed to the Von Erich household where Doris Von Erich was watching it on television. Yet, when Ric Flair wrestles Kevin Von Erich later, Kevin’s match is shown in full. Ditto for Kevin vs. Harley Race… Which AGAIN, temper your expectations to think of this as a Kevin Von Erich biography rather than a Von Erich family biography. Personally, I would have loved to see more of the backstories setting up the Von Erichs vs. the Freebirds. Instead, they just showed highlights of various matches.
I thought the conflict of Kevin Von Erich versus his dad was played well and helps carry the film… Fritz Von Erich revealed that he had a ranking of his actual sons and it was based solely on their athletic endeavors. Then, the NWA Title shot drama regarding Kevin and his brothers was played well and really added to the friction of Kevin and Fritz. The way that Kevin becomes fearful of the “Von Erich Curse” spreading to his kids was acted well by Zac Efron. Then, the way that the film concludes is very tearful as Kevin becomes the lone living brother and embraces his old family. I’ll let you see this for yourself, but it truly bookends the film well if you get into the thinking that this is a Kevin Von Erich biography.
From what I can see, the budget was around $15-20 Million, which explains the cutaways from actually showing the major wrestling events. I’m guessing the budget was light because the subject material covers a wrestling family from over 30 years ago that regional wrestling fans may not have actually seen, let alone wrestling fans of today hearing about World Class or the Von Erich family. I’m more surprised that the studio who made this didn’t incorporate the WWE to help them get more in-ring stuff recorded or for better promotion. After all, the Von Erichs are WWE Hall of Fame inductees and WWE owns all of their footage.
THE LAST WORD: Movie was good overall, thanks to the acting of the cast. If you took away the wrestling stuff and just made this about family drama, it would probably be an entertaining watch for anyone. Like I said, the cast is great and each does their role well… The lack of in-ring wrestling and key World Class moments, mixing up timelines, excluding Chris Von Erich and cousin Lance, and maybe downplaying Kerry Von Erich’s storylines make it slightly disappointing for me. That said, if I think of this as a Kevin Von Erich biography because in the end, his family life exceeded his wrestling life, then you’ll enjoy this. I’ll go [ B ] purely on the basis of great acting and athleticism shown by the cast to still give me a good time despite its low budget making the wrestling arena/stadium atmosphere portion look weak.
CLICK HERE for the Mr. Tito Column Archive @ NoDQ