In the rich tapestry of professional wrestling’s history, numerous renowned families have played pivotal roles. The Hart family, hailing from Canada, stands out as a powerhouse, producing iconic wrestlers such as Bret “The Hitman” Hart, his younger brother, Owen, and various other family members and talented individuals trained under their patriarch, Stu Hart. Another dominant force is the Anoa’i family, whose influence persists, contributing notable wrestlers like Rikishi, Roman Reigns and the legendary Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Beyond the ropes, the McMahon family — comprising Vince McMahon, his daughter, Stephanie, son, Shane and son-in-law, Paul Levesque — played a key role in solidifying WWE as the foremost wrestling organization globally. In 2023, the company joined forces with the UFC to create TKO, a unified corporation specializing in combat sports entertainment, generating billions in revenue annually.

While numerous wrestling families have left positive legacies, one stands out with a somewhat tarnished mark — the Von Erich family of Texas. Possessing all the ingredients to be among the elite, their journey was marred by tragedy after tragedy, resulting in a narrative of unrealized potential and profound loss.

Their story, resembling a Hollywood drama, has been brought to life on the silver screen, courtesy of A24 Films.

The Iron Claw presents a fictionalized historical account of the Von Erich Family saga. In the 1960s, family patriarch Jack Adkisson (Holt McCallany) assumed the persona of Fritz Von Erich, a Nazi wrestler, in a bid to capture the attention of the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) for a championship opportunity. Despite persistent efforts, Fritz shifted gears to become a promoter, urging his sons — Kevin (Zac Effron), David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) and Mike (Stanley Simmons) — to continue the pursuit of wrestling glory.

As time unfolds, Kevin ties the knot with his girlfriend, Pam (Lily James), and endeavors to build a family, fueled by the desire to lead a fulfilling life with his wife, children and brothers. However, tragedy strikes relentlessly as each brother succumbs, pushed beyond their limits by their father’s unwavering obsession. The Von Erich curse takes its toll methodically, leaving behind a shattered family in its relentless wake.

The Iron Claw introduces some creative alterations to real events surrounding the family, while striving to stay as close to the truth as possible. In reality, there was another brother, Chris, who held the position of the family’s youngest member. Struggling with injuries, he fell into a deep depression following Mike’s death, ultimately leading to his suicide in 1991.

However, the film diverges from reality when portraying Fritz’s reaction to Kevin selling the promotion to Jerry Jarrett. In the movie, Fritz is depicted as deeply upset with Kevin, labeling him a failure in both wrestling and promotion. In actuality, it was Fritz who sold the promotion to Jarrett, with Kevin opposing the decision. These alterations seem designed to evoke greater sympathy for Kevin, casting Fritz as the definitive “bad guy” in contrast to Kevin’s “good guy” role — reminiscent of the heroes vs. villains’ dynamic often seen in professional wrestling.

Zac Efron delivers a commendable performance as Kevin Von Erich, yet I found myself not entirely convinced. Throughout a significant portion of the film, it seemed to me that he portrayed Kevin with a somewhat simplistic demeanor. This proved frustrating, given that the real Kevin Von Erich is widely known for his stoic speaking style. Perhaps the filmmakers aimed to tap into undisclosed aspects and draw upon intimate family knowledge. As the narrative progresses, Zac Efron does, to some degree, break free from this portrayal. However, as a fan, it felt somewhat disconcerting to witness the characterization of Kevin for a considerable part of the movie.

Given its exploration of death and alleged curses, The Iron Claw delves into weighty subject matter, creating a profoundly somber film. While there are occasional moments of levity, the majority of the narrative immerses the audience in the aftermath, mirroring the struggles of the family members on screen. As the brothers encounter escalating problems, the film maintains an unrelenting intensity.

I found myself progressively consumed by a genuine sense of sadness, with only the end credits providing a semblance of relief. Ordinarily, this might be considered a drawback for a film, as audiences typically seek entertainment and engagement with an enjoyable experience. However, in the case of The Iron Claw, its purpose is to depict the harrowing journey of this wrestling family. Experiencing those emotions in tandem with the characters allows the audience to empathetically join the tragic narrative, and this aspect is exceptionally well-executed.

The Iron Claw earns a commendable four out of five stars. Despite a few debatable character design choices, director Sean Durkin successfully delivers a biopic that mirrors the weightiness of the genuine struggles faced by the Von Erich Family. Balancing creative liberties with the authenticity of the subject matter, the film provides a compelling glimpse into the lives of Texas’ most renowned pro-wrestling family.

For fans of pro wrestling, The Iron Claw is a must-see cinematic experience. Even for those unfamiliar with the sport, it serves as an informative exploration of the business, likely leaving viewers reaching for tissues along the way.