The Iron Claw

Verdict: Zac Efron delivers his career-best performance in this unbelievable and heartbreaking family drama

  • Zac Efron, Lily James, Jeremy Allan White, Harris Dickinson
  • February 9th 2024
  • Sean Durkin

Zac Efron plays real-life wrestler Kevin Von Erich in Sean Durkin’s heartbreaking family drama.

Zac Efron, best known for musicals like The Greatest Showman and High School Musical, shows a completely different side to himself as a wrestler in The Iron Claw.

The film, written and directed by Sean Durkin, tells the story of one of the greatest dynasties in wrestling history, the Von Erichs. Set between the late ’70s and the early ’90s, the story is told through the eyes of Kevin Von Erich (Efron) as he and his family – brothers David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike (Stanley Simons) – endure a series of tragedies.

If you’re not a fan of wrestling movies, don’t be put off. Sure, there are plenty of amazing wrestling scenes but they push the story forward.

It is primarily a family drama about brotherly love and toxic masculinity. Their father Fritz (Holt McCallany) won’t let them express their feelings – crying is considered a sign of weakness – so they have to bury their grief and keep on fighting. As is often the case, their emotions find a way of coming out eventually.

Efron has never been better and it’s shocking that he hasn’t received more awards buzz for his career-best performance. The physical and emotional demands of this role are no joke. He beefed up to look like an unrealistic action figure but also had to deliver the emotion. Kevin really has to deal with a lot and everything gets to him at the end – and the final scene establishes Efron as a serious actor with emotional range.

However, despite the tragic subject matter, Durkin’s matter of fact way of depicting the story prevents it from connecting deeply until the very end. He often cuts away before you see the main moment and picks up with the aftermath, which doesn’t always work on an emotional level.

It also doesn’t help that Durkin fudged the timeline of events to make the tragedies seem closer together and removed a lot of characters (including another brother!) to focus the story on Kevin. While it’s a drama not a documentary, it should feel like a complete story and viewers shouldn’t need to do some reading to fill in the gaps afterwards.

Don’t be tempted to Google the Von Erichs beforehand and ruin the unbelievable sequence of events in this family’s history. Despite the issues, it still manages to deliver a knock-out emotional punch at the very end. Bring tissues!

In cinemas from Friday 9th February.

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