Wrestling with adversity: ‘The Iron Claw’ is a well-acted but stunningly tragic film

One of the problems you might have with The Iron Claw, the story of the Von Erich brothers’ wrestling adventures, is that it’s quite tragic—perhaps unrealistically tragic. The tragedies pile on in this move at a rate that could have you thinking the writers went too far.

Thing is … it’s a true story. The horrifically shitty circumstances that befell the brothers are not made up. So you might not have a fun time watching it, but be assured, the Von Erich brothers had a much worse time living it.

A beefed-up, transformed Zac Efron plays Kevin, the oldest of the four brothers. He’s trying his darndest to bring a championship belt into the house for their domineering dad, Fritz (Holt McCallany), a former wrestler and their coach; the road is not an easy one.

Brothers David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike (Stanley Simons) are giving it their all as well. In the end, they will have little more than death and family destruction to show for their efforts.

The acting here is superb, especially from a never-better Efron, who brings so much more than surface physicality to the role. White, so good in The Bear, is heart-wrenching as the doomed brother who would wind up wrestling with one leg.

If you think the tragedy that unfolds in The Iron Claw is too much for one movie, keep this in mind: There was yet another wrestling Von Erich brother, Chris, who didn’t even make it into the movie. Lily James offers some of the film’s only moments of joy and levity as Kevin’s uplifting wife. She’s like a buoy in the middle of a constant emotional storm.

The movie is occasionally hard to watch, but it is never a slog. Sometimes, life sucks, and it can really suck if you take up a very competitive form of wrestling with a dad and bunch of brothers who want to win at all costs.

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