From the start, it's evident that writer-director Sean Durkin was deeply committed to sharing the true story of the Von Erich family wrestling legacy, which, surprisingly for those unfamiliar with it, faced a series of losses that are almost too heartbreaking to fathom. Without giving away too much, I can mention that by the age of 35, Kevin was the only surviving brother out of the original six (he is now 66). The story is so devastating that Durkin chose to leave out the recounting of Chris, one of the three brothers lost to suicide.

Durkin has shared that his passion for wrestling dates back to his childhood in England. During those early years, he avidly explored magazines to delve into the adventures of the Von Erichs, who gained fame in the vibrant, high-energy world of 1970s and early 1980s wrestling. This deep affection forms the foundation of The Iron Claw, a film that narrates its compelling story with sincerity and commitment. However, it appears somewhat hesitant to take a truly critical stance on either the harshness of a sport that shattered this family or the role of family patriarch Fritz Von Erich, who seemingly left his sons with little choice in the matter.

Zac Efron, right, plays Kevin Von Erich in The Iron Claw. Photo / AP

The narrative starts with Fritz. In a prologue set in the 1950s and presented in black-and-white, the future patriarch and promoter (superbly portrayed by Holt McCallany) is seen in the wrestling ring, showcasing his renowned "Iron Claw" maneuver. This punishing grip involves both hands firmly grasping the skull of an unfortunate opponent, applying intense pressure akin to a vice.

Harris Dickinson as David Von Erich in a scene from The Iron Claw. Photo / AP

In the parking lot, Fritz's wife, Doris (played by Maura Tierney), waits with their young children. Doris is taken aback to see Fritz with a new, expensive car to attach to their trailer—something they can't afford. However, he explains that it's part of the image he's crafting: to be the toughest and the strongest, so nothing can harm them.

Fast-forward to 1979, and Fritz has transferred his dream of becoming a heavyweight champion to his surviving sons, as one has tragically passed away in a terrible accident. Kevin strives to be the first to achieve this goal. In the ring, Kevin engages in dynamic exploits, including climbing on top of the ropes to launch airborne attacks on opponents. While these fight scenes are vivid and thrilling, there may come a point, especially for viewers like me, where you find yourself shouting at the screen, pleading for it to end to prevent another son from getting hurt.

Jeremy Allen White, left, and Harris Dickinson as Kerry and David Von Erich. Photo / AP

However, at the kitchen table, the conversation never turns to quitting. Fritz insists that Kevin, David, and Mike must intensify their efforts to secure the coveted championship belt. Despite Mike's interest in music, Fritz disregards it. In private, Kevin approaches his mother, Doris, urging her to intercede for Mike. Unfortunately, Doris relies solely on her faith, stating that the wrestling business is a matter for the men. Witnessing her powerlessness as the sadness multiplies is a harrowing experience.

The question arises: who will be the first to fulfill their father's dream? Will it be David, a skilled talker and taunter in the ring? Or Kevin, who boasts impressive physical strength but struggles with self-promotion due to his awkwardness? A new contender emerges in the form of Kerry, an aspiring discus thrower with Olympic aspirations. When President Jimmy Carter announces that the United States won't be sending a team to Moscow in 1980, Fritz decides that Kerry (played by Jeremy Allen White) will join his brothers in the wrestling ring.

The Iron Claw Is Based on the Tragic True Story of the Von Erich Brothers

While there are a few heartwarming scenes depicting the brothers bonding, engaging in activities like playing football, the film's pacing, filled with wrestling sequences and a series of tragedies, limits the depth of relationship development. One exception is Kevin's connection with Pam, played by the delightful and soulful Lily James. Pam pursues the shy Kevin, and their eventual marriage becomes a brief, joyful moment, highlighted by an infectious family line-dancing scene.

Lily James, left, and Zac Efron as Pam and Kevin in The Iron Claw. Photo / AP

However, tragedy is imminent. Without revealing more of the Von Erich saga for those unfamiliar, it's worth noting that loss doesn't seem to soften Fritz. During one funeral, he commands his grieving sons to remove their sunglasses and then strictly prohibits them from shedding tears.

Zac Efron, sporting a rock-hard physique and a 70s mullet, delivers some of the most compelling performances of his career. Jeremy Allen White is equally superb, portraying Kerry with a sense of mystery—initially the golden boy until a personal tragedy propels him into a downward spiral. Harris Dickinson as David and the poignant Stanley Simons as Mike contribute to a powerful ensemble. However, the film doesn't delve deeply into the emotional bonds connecting the brothers, who appear more tied by loyalty and shared hardship than anything else.

The film's emotionally charged conclusion, skillfully portrayed by Efron, evokes well-earned tears. However, the epilogue provides additional information, revealing that in 2009, the Von Erich family was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.