Legacy of Pain


Release date: 22 December 2023 (USA)
Genre: Sport/Thriller
Director: Sean Durkin
Cinematographer: Mátyás Erdély
Budget: $15.9 million USD
Box office: $43.2 million USD


4 MIN Read Time


“Being a Von Erich isn’t just a name, it’s a curse. But maybe together, we can break it.” – Kevin Von Erich (played by Zac Efron)


Forget the spandex and piledrivers, “The Iron Claw” throws a different kind of punch. Director Sean Durkin’s 2023 biographical drama takes us inside the world of professional wrestling, but not for the usual spectacle. Instead, it delivers a powerful uppercut of a story that explores the tragic trajectory of the Von Erich family, a dynasty of wrestlers whose triumphs were inextricably linked to devastating personal struggles.

While online reviews point out some creative liberties taken with historical accuracy, there’s no denying the film’s emotional impact. Durkin, known for his nuanced character studies, crafts a compelling narrative that transcends the world of wrestling. At its core, “The Iron Claw” is a story about family, ambition, and the dark underside of the American dream, all set against the backdrop of the unforgiving wrestling industry.

The film’s strength lies in its performances. Zac Efron delivers a career-defining turn as Kevin Von Erich, the charismatic star whose ascent to fame is tragically cut short. Reviews have lauded Efron’s transformation, shedding his teen heartthrob persona to embody Kevin’s descent into despair with heartbreaking authenticity. Jeremy Allen White and Harris Dickinson are equally impressive as Kevin’s brothers, David and Kerry, each grappling with their own desires to succeed while living in the shadow of their more popular sibling.

Production details add another layer of realism. Filming reportedly took place primarily on location in Texas, the Von Erichs’ home turf. This dedication to authenticity transports viewers to the heart of the wrestling scene and the close-knit Texan community that both embraced the Von Erichs and witnessed their tragic downfall. The gritty, lived-in aesthetic captures the rawness of the wrestling world, where the line between performance and punishment is often blurred.

However, “The Iron Claw” isn’t all doom and gloom. Durkin skillfully injects moments of genuine warmth and humour that showcase the deep bond between the Von Erich brothers. They train together, joke around backstage, and celebrate each other’s victories. Maura Tierney brings strength and compassion to the role of their mother, Doris, torn between supporting her sons’ dreams and fearing for their well-being as they push themselves to the limit both physically and mentally.

While the film doesn’t shy away from depicting the brutal realities of the wrestling business, with its exploitative promoters and the toll it takes on the wrestlers’ bodies, it doesn’t dwell on sensationalism. Durkin paints a nuanced picture of the industry, showcasing the dedication, passion, and even love that many wrestlers have for the sport.

Commercially, “The Iron Claw” wasn’t a blockbuster but achieved modest success, grossing $43.2 million USD against a budget of $15.9 million USD. More importantly, it garnered critical acclaim with many praising Durkin’s direction and the film’s emotional depth. The National Board of Review even included it on their prestigious Top 10 Films of 2023 list.

So, should you see it? If you’re looking for a traditional wrestling movie packed with high-flying acrobatics and thunderous slams, “The Iron Claw” might not be your jam. However, if you’re interested in a compelling and tragic family drama set against the backdrop of the wrestling world, then this film is a must-watch. The strong performances, emotional storytelling, and exploration of complex themes like legacy, pressure, and the struggle to define oneself make “The Iron Claw” a rewarding experience, even for those who wouldn’t normally consider themselves wrestling fans.

However, it’s worth noting some potential drawbacks. As mentioned earlier, the film takes some creative liberties with the Von Erichs’ story. While the core themes remain consistent, some details might not sit well with purists who crave historical accuracy. Additionally, the film’s pacing is deliberate, building tension and character development rather than relying on fast-paced action sequences. This might not appeal to viewers seeking a more adrenaline-fueled experience.

Ultimately, “The Iron Claw” is a powerful drama that transcends the boundaries of genre. It’s a film about family, ambition, and the cost of chasing the American dream, all set against the backdrop of the captivating and often brutal world of professional wrestling. If you’re looking for a thought-provoking film that will stay with you long after the credits roll, then step into the ring with “The Iron Claw.” You might just be surprised by the emotional knockout punch it delivers.

My Rating: 7/10



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