THE IRON CLAW Review – Get Your Von Erichs Out

THE IRON CLAW takes place in a different era of wrestling than what you are familiar with today. At that moment the WWE was not yet the global wrestling powerhouse. They were still known as the WWWF and it’s just a territorial promotion in most of New England and New York, and this takes place mostly at the end of the Wrestling Territorial era.

When the United States wrestling landscape was divided into different wrestling territories control by different wrestling promotions, all these territories were under the umbrella of the NWA (National Wrestling Alliance). The wrestling territories would trade talent with each other; but they would never cross each other’s territory without permission.

In my home state of Texas, we had the largest numbers of territories in one State, we had 5 territories. In the Iron Claw we concentrate on the territory of World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW) Which was based out of Dallas and cover all Northeast Texas. This territory was controlled by Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of one of the most famous wrestling families, The Von Erichs. The most fascinating thing about Von Erichs story is that many of Fritz children were struck by all these weird tragedies. They went from having 6 brothers to having an only child. This is story about a family that loved the wrestling business, but business did not love them back. The Iron Claw is an amazing Shakesperean Wrestling tragedy.

First the wrestling in this movie is amazing. Zack Efron has a sweet looking flying kick in this film.  Everybody does an excellent job in capturing the flow of a wrestling match. You feel those hard chops in this movie. Especially, those killer bumps that can take the air out of you. The cinematography does an excellent job in capturing the inferno-like atmosphere of the WCCW Sportatorium hall that looks like something out of Roadhouse. The training and wrestling choreography were done by veteran wrestler Chavo Guerrero Jr. also from the famous Guerrero family.

I am a huge fan of the cast here. They got the right appearance of many icons of wrestling that worked in the WCCW territory like the Freebirds, Bruiser Brody, Gino Hernandez, Harley Race, Ric Flair and others. Most of these roles are presented as cameos that are mostly seen in montages, but if you were a fan of 80s wrestling you will recognize them and point them out to your friends. The only other wrestlers we do get more time with are Harley Race and Ric Flair. The actor playing Harley Race (Kevin Anton) is great showing the legendary NWA champion from Missouri. He might not have chiseled the physique of Von Erics, but more like the physique of beer belly bouncer from the most dangerous roadside bar in Missouri. He captures the cheer brutality of the wrestler. Their is a reason there are many tales of how tough Harley Race was. One of the last classic era wrestlers. Now the actor playing Ric Flair (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) captures Flair’s explosive charisma. I was impressed when he did the Flair monologue without missing a beat.

The Von Eric clan is the focus of this film. Starting with the patriarch of the family Fritz Von Erich (Hott McCallany) an old school wrestler with big dreams. He never got to achieve his potential in the world of wrestling that he feels he should have achieved. Eventually he became the owner of his own wrestling territory.  He is the worst dad ever. A man that is trying to live out his lost dream thru his children.  He pushes them into the world of wrestling. Even though many of them have the gifts that help them become great wrestlers, Others do not have the same natural skills.  They are not protected from the worst aspects of the wrestling business. The Von Erich’s kids are going to take this promotion to the moon and even achieve Fritz greatest dream to be the Heavyweight World Champion. In the other side you have the Matriarch of the group Doris Von Erich (Maura Tierney) She is holding the household together thru all the tragedies. She is also the one that is not interested in wrestling or sports. Her attention is more focused on art and music.

Fritz and Doris Von Erich had five boys, all of them became involved in the wrestling business. Each one of them had a different skill they inherited from their father:

Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) is the only surviving of this generation of Von Erich’s.  He had the best sense of the wrestling business. I mean he understood how to tell a story in the wrestling ring and the best overall technical wrestler in the family. He is portrayed as a respectful Southern boy. He just wants to wrestle and live a long life with his family. He also wants more ribs. He is the leader of the brothers when his father is not around. Efron gives a lot of heart to this character as we see his sould being destroyed by each loss of his brothers.  He is the heart of the story and the main point of view of the story.

David Von Erich, (Harris Dickinson) he had his father Charisma and Mic skills. He was supposed to be the chosen one. The one that was going to bring the NWA world heavyweight championship home. He was going to live to become the greatest Von Erich ever in wrestling. He also was the first one of the boys to go to another territory to be a heel and become bigger than in his father’s territory.  Dickinson shines with his charisma.  As a wrestling fan you can tell that he has a great flow when he is giving his promos. One thing about wrestling is that your charisma and promo skills will take you further than your physical abilities


Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White) gains his father’s athletic abilities. He was the best natural athlete of the boys. He looks exactly like you will imagine the perfect wrestler. He never meant to get into the wrestling business. He was going to be an Olympian athlete.  He held the youth national discus throwing record. He was supposed to compete in the 1980 Olympics representing the USA, but he never did; because of The USA boycott due to the Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan.  Kerry was never the same after missing out the Olympics.  He ended up getting pulled into the business by his father. He is man haunted by trying to achieve the unfulfilled destiny of his brother David.  He lived most of his life in the shadow of David. He had the talent; but was consumed by the business. Kerry was the only Von Erich that I got to watch on television wrestling during his peak.

Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) I find the most tragic loss; he had no business being a wrestler. He was more interested in music than wrestling but his father wanted him to compete in the business after the loss of David. They needed more Von Erich’s on the shows.  Stanley Simons portrays this innocent boy that loves his brother’s achievements; but he does not want to be part of his world. He becomes a wrestler out of duty to help the family. His sacrifice for the family sadly will cost him his life.

Finally, we do get to see in flashback Jack Adkisson as a child. The oldest Von Erich, but the one had the shortest life. He passed away in an accident as a child. The odd thing is that Chris Von Erich is completely omitted from the movie. There is no mention of him in this film. He does not exist in this world. A little into his story, he was the opposite of Mike. He wanted to be a wrestler like his 3 older brothers. The only problem is that he was not lucky in the genetic lottery. He was 5’6 and around 120. As hard as he tried, he could never develop the athletic body of his siblings. He ended up committing suicide just before Kerry died. I learned the reason he is omitted from the film is that there were just too many tragedies in the film. They felt there was enough sadness in the film.

My positives on the film they manage to capture the feel and look of the wrestling territory period.  The acting is great.  The wrestling matches are well choreographed of course, and if I had to say anything negative is that I feel this movie would be even better with a longer director’s cut. At times it feels like they are rushing the story. I also wanted to have a little more time with world class wrestling. I wanted to see more of the Freebirds, and I also heard they completely deleted the scenes where MJF plays the fake Von Erich.  I understand the filmmakers had to make some tough decisions when telling the story of Von Erich as it is so colossal. There was going to be part of the story that needed to be cut to make a proper feature length film.  This critique is more of my wrestling fan side speaking. Iron Claw is a wonderful film about the wrestling business in a now long-gone era. Now if you want to know more about this story you should seek the WWE documentary Heroes of World Class.

Jason Whyte | Get Reel Movies

THE IRON CLAW is now available on all Digital platforms including Apple TV and Google Play.

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