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  • Danny Harrington

'The Iron Claw: The Von Erich Family Tragedy on the Big Screen'

The tragic tale bough to the big screen, a solid 4/5.

As a professional wrestling fan, we’re always lumbered with the term it’s fake, however this story is one of pro wrestling’s darkest tragedy bought to the big screen.

Brothers Kerry, David and Kevin Portrayed by Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson and Zach Efron. Credit A24

This is a career defining performance for it’s star Zach Efron as Kevin Von Erich the last surviving brother of the Von Erich family.

The Von Erich’s were a family of professional wrestlers from Dallas, Texas. Their farther Fritz Von Erich (Played by Holt McCallany) himself a retired pro-wrestler and the owner and booker of the Dallas based Word Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) pushed his sons to be the best in the world.

Fritz wanted the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) worlds heavyweight championship within his families grasp and you do get an insight into the politicking of the territory wrestling system that died out in the lates 80s and the two major players in WWE and WCW took centre stage.

Zach Effron is absolutely jacked in this movie, like beyond Baywatch jacked. Efron’s performance is so emotionally moving that you find it hard to hold back the tears yourself, as his Kevin Von Erich is left to pick up the pieces of tragedy after tragedy.

Fritz is portrayed as an overbearing toxic father figure and whilst the real Kevin Von Erich did criticize the film for this portrayal, however if you’ve watched the Dark Side of the Ring Episode about the Von Erich’s to say Fritz was old school is an understatement.

The Von Erich brothers were stalwarts of the NWA wrestling scene, Kerry Von Erich portrayed by the Bear’s Jeremy Allan White starts out as an Olympic hopeful shot putter before that dream is crushed through politics as the USA pulls its team from the Soviet Olympics of 1980. Kerry is then bought into the wrestling fold by his farther and joins brothers Kevin & David Von Erich Portrayed by Harris Dickinson.

The cast is round out by the fourth brother Mike Von Erich portrayed by Stanley Simons and Kevin’s wife Pam played by Lilly James. For director & writer Sean Durkin this is his third feature film and incredibly heavy subject matter.

The story deals with the toxic masculinity of Fritz, who had a ranking system for his sons and his ambition seems to be the root cause of the family’s problems. David is the first to die rather tragically in his hotel room in Japan where he was on tour at the time of a ruptured intestine.

David’s death starts a tragedy of events which includes Kerry winning the NWA world title, losing his foot in an accident and Mike being bought into the family business despite him showing very little athletic ability and desire to be in wrestling.

Mike gets injured in the ring and after a supposedly routine operation goes wrong and he enters a coma it leaves him with brain damage from which he never recovers and overdoses, where David end up joining the WWE only to learn he’s being released and then end’s up shooting himself. Kevin is the only one who’s wise enough to choose his immediate family over wrestling and ultimately the only one to stand up to his father.

The point of criticism for me in the film is that the story of the Von Erich’s is far worse than portrayed when you add that there is a fifth brother that isn’t included in the movie Chris Von Erich, this brother is sort of merged with Mike’s role. Mike wanted to be a musician which is portrayed in the movie whilst the missing brother Chris always wanted to be in pro wrestling, working camera jobs in WCCW, however Chris wanted to be in the ring, however he was the smallest of the brothers and had various underlying health issues including asthma. Chris much like Kerry ended up committing suicide before his 22nd birthday.

The film’s director stated that to include Chris was to include one to many tragedies. However, I believe it’s important to include Chris in this film otherwise you’re glossing over another tragedy for the sake of the audience. I certainly hope Chris is forgotten in all this.

Durkin’s take on this story is compelling and you can tell done with a lot of love for the Von Erich’s, a quick shout should go to Chavo Guerrero jr. for helping choreography the wrestling spots in this movie, as well as AEW’s Maxwell Jacob Friedman as an executive producer and a small role as a fake Von Erich.

The films tragic undertones aren’t one to watch with the family but if you want to learn about on of wrestling darkest stories of which there are plenty then it’s a must watch for any wrestling enthusiast.

I would highly recommend the Vice series The Darkside of the Ring which has an episode dedicated to the Von Erich’s.

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