A gripping story of family bonds and tragedy

A gripping story of family bonds and tragedy

Drawing on the true story of the Von Erich/Atkisson wrestling family, The Iron Claw is a harrowing story of a family that is seemingly cursed and the efforts of a survivor to end the cycle of family violence.  
Based in the wrestling territory of Dallas, the Von Erich family promoted and performed in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW). While promoted to fans as clean-living and wholesome, the Von Erich brothers struggled behind the scenes with drugs, injuries, and a violent upbringing. The Iron Claw is a long-awaited film about the Von Erichs. Told from the point of view of the oldest brother, Kevin, it shows how Fritz von Erich put his sons in direct competition with one another to advance in the wrestling business and, more importantly, win his favour.  

Despite being pit against one another, Kevin, Kerry, Mike, and David Von Erich all had a deep, abiding love for one another, and the film depicts them bonding before tragedy cruelly tears them apart.  

Despite the dark points in the film’s story (and The Iron Claw gets very dark at points) there are moments of levity and moments of hope in the film’s conclusion. Kevin Von Erich stands as a survivor who has overcome a good deal to find hope in his Christian faith and his family.  

Of course, with any story of a ‘family curse’ it is worth considering that the narrative of a curse leaves people off the hook. From the film’s portrayal, it can be inferred that the Von Erich family members who passed away largely died due to the pressures that came with their upbringing. Ascribing these deaths to an external curse avoids putting responsibility on Fritz Von Erich. 

Not that The Iron Claw is easy on the patriarch of the Von Erich family. The film constantly portrays Fritz as an overbearing father who pushes his sons past reasonable boundaries, so he can vicariously live out his own unfulfilled dream of being NWA World Heavyweight Champion.  

As is often the case with films like this, artistic license has been used with the story’s events and details. In most cases, this is understandable and in service of The Iron Claw’s wider narrative. In other instances, however, the choices rankle a little. The omission of Chris Von Erich, kept out of the film because filmmaker Sean Durkin found his story ‘too sad’ would have been better dealt with deft writing than outright erasure. Those wanting to know more about the real-life details about the family would be well served following up their viewing of The Iron Claw by watching the Von Erichs episode of The Dark Side of the Ring. 

The majority of performances fare well. Zac Efron is virtually unrecognisable as Kevin Von Erich, and it is clear from the actor’s interview comments that he admires the real-life Kevin Atkinson a good deal. For his part, the sole surviving Von Erich brother has been impressed with Efron’s portrayal.  

The Bear’s Jeremy Allen White also shines as Kerry Von Erich. In many ways the family’s biggest in-ring star, Kerry’s story stands out as seemingly unlikely and sad, and White looks the part while delivering his lines in a similar way to the former World Champion.  

Lilly James (Baby Driver) portrays Kevin’s love interest, Pam. James’ performance here is once again versatile in all the story’s ups and downs. The storyline romance between Kevin and Pam is based closely on their real-life relationship and is a nice diversion from the plot’s darker aspects. 

Not all other portrayals fare as well, and the film’s version of Ric Flair is particularly dreadful, missing the Nature Boy’s signature tones to the point that it seems the actor did not watch any of his promos during preparation.  

Needless to say, Insights’ recommendation of The Iron Claw is heavily qualified. The references to neglect and abuse are hard-going and the film should have included a pre-screen warning for its depiction of multiple suicides. Those who can sit through the film will find much to consider about survival, trauma, and familial bonds.  

You can phone Lifeline to speak to a Crisis Supporter on 13 11 14, text 0477 131 114, chat to Lifeline online or access the Support Toolkit to self-manage what you’re going through at www.lifeline.org.au (all services are available 24/7).  

The Iron Claw is playing in cinemas from 18 January 2024.  


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