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The Reflector

‘The Iron Claw’ wrestles emotions with story of Von Erich tragedy

A24’s latest film starring Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White retells the heartbreaking story of professional wrestling’s Von Erich curse
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Joshua Britt

In 1983, there were five brothers in the world-renowned and locally loved Texas professional wrestling Von Erich family: David, Kerry, Kevin, Mike and Chris Von Erich. In 1993, Kevin Von Erich was the sole brother living.

A24’s latest film “The Iron Claw” masterfully follows the real-life story of wrestling villain and high-handed father Fritz Von Erich’s (Holt McCallany) family as they grapple with the pressures of global wrestling fame and rising expectations.

The film, directed by Sean Durkin, takes place throughout the late 70s and early 80s. Audiences take their seat at the Von Erich family table while Kevin Von Erich (Zac Efron) is the NWA Texas Heavyweight Champion, Kerry Von Erich (Jeremy Allen White) is training to participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics, which the brothers get cheated out of later on, and David Von Erich (Harris Dickinson) is preparing to make his in-ring wrestling debut.

The Von Erich brotherhood is showcased through many glorious, shared moments of God, Texas and pro wrestling. The bond between Kerry, Kevin and David both inside and outside of the ring is clear, with each brother having the other’s backs through tag team matches and backyard football games.

Promptly after the brothers soundly defeat the Fabulous Freebirds in 1983, Fritz approaches his sons to inform them that David was selected by the NWA to win the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship after his 1984 tour of Japan, beginning a long set of tragedies that will leave even the strongest viewers sobbing for an hour straight.

While attending Kevin’s wedding, David is found vomiting blood prior to his overseas tour. After insisting that he still travel to Japan, David is found dead in his Tokyo hotel room after suffering from acute enteritis.

Directly after David’s funeral, Kerry wins a coin flip deciding who will challenge and defeat NWA Worlds Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair (Aaron Dean Eisenberg) in David’s stead, bringing home the family’s most sought-after prize.

Immediately after winning the NWA Worlds title, Kerry goes for a motorcycle ride and has a terrible accident in which he loses his right foot.

In need of a Von Erich brother to replace David’s spot in the trio, Fritz appoints Mike Von Erich (Stanley Simons) to join the family wrestling business, beginning what I consider to be the saddest stretch of the film.

Mike Von Erich did not want to be a wrestler like his brothers. Mike was much smaller than his brothers, opting to practice playing guitar instead of training to wrestle. Stanley Simons’ portrayal of Mike makes it hard not to feel terrible watching as he struggles to perform basic wrestling maneuvers and keep up with his older brothers.

After making his in-ring debut, Mike injures his shoulder, later suffering from toxic shock and brain damage. Consequentially, Mike takes his own life.

Despite having only one foot, Kerry Von Erich continues to wrestle using a prosthetic foot. Upon returning home for Christmas, Kerry gives his father Fritz a new gun for Christmas.

Later that night, Kerry gives Kevin a chilling phone call, letting his brother know that he fears the alleged Von Erich curse that seemingly ended his brothers’ lives.

The next morning, Kerry uses the gun he gifted his father to commit suicide.

“The Iron Claw” is a chilling movie that warms the heart with familial moments of brotherhood, all while slowly planting the seeds for heartbreak as the Von Erich family passes away one by one.

Though the movie is largely based on the real-life story of the Von Erichs, a few liberties were taken. A large omission from the film is youngest brother Chris Von Erich, another brother that took his own life. Director Sean Durkin notes that Chris was left out of the film due to his death being “one more tragedy that the film couldn’t really withstand.”

Professional wrestling is on prominent display throughout the film. While several nods and homages to 80s wrestling can be seen through title belts, wardrobes and even the actual World Class Championship Wrestling theme music, the film has one major miss that takes familiar audiences completely out of immersion.

Aaron Dean Eisenberg’s portrayal of Ric Flair is bad. Ric Flair is a prominent part of not only the Von Erich’s wrestling legacy, but a prominent part of wrestling history as a whole.

Known for his loud, screaming interviews and personality brighter than his hot pink and feathery sequined robes, Ric Flair is a character that was tailor-made for the silver screen. Aaron Dean Eisenberg’s performance reflects someone who has seemingly never seen one minute of Ric Flair footage, with the accent and cadence of his speech falling flat.

Despite Eisenberg’s laughable Flair impersonation, wrestling fans and the uninitiated Zac Efron and Jeremy Allen White fans alike are sure to find many things to enjoy and cry over in A24’s tragic “The Iron Claw,” so long as they stock up on tissues to dry their eyes after finishing the film.

About the Contributor
Joshua Britt, Editor-in-Chief
Joshua Britt is a senior majoring in information technology services from Southaven, Mississippi. He currently serves as the Editor-in-Chief and served as the Online Editor from 2020 to 2023. [email protected]
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