Combustible Celluloid Review - The Iron Claw (2023), Sean Durkin, Sean Durkin, Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James
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With: Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Stanley Simons, Maura Tierney, Holt McCallany, Lily James
Written by: Sean Durkin
Directed by: Sean Durkin
MPAA Rating: R for language, suicide, some sexuality and drug use
Running Time: 132
Date: 12/22/2023
IMDB

The Iron Claw (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Going to the Mat

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Avoiding a flat, chunky approach, writer/director Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Nest) tells this incredible true story with a welcome introspection, and a soft touch that takes its time and finds an undercurrent of emotion.

Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany) is a retired pro wrestler (famous for his "iron claw" move), who has raised his sons to become athletes. It's the late 1970s, and Kevin (Zac Efron), the eldest, is on the brink of getting a shot at the title belt. David (Harris Dickinson) is more naturally gifted at performing and ringside banter, but doesn't want to step over his older brother. Kerry (Jeremy Allen White) is an Olympic discus thrower whose career is derailed by the boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games; he comes home to join his brothers in the ring. And Mike (Stanley Simons), the youngest, is more interested in making music, but does not want to ignite his father's rage.

The boys' mother, Doris (Maura Tierney), quietly holds things together, while cooking mountains of food for her muscular boys. Over the course of a few years, one by one, a series of unlucky breaks and tragedies befalls the family. Kevin begins to believe that the family is actually cursed, threatening his relationship with his wife Pam (Lily James) and his own kids.

Biographical movies that take place over a span of time tend to get lost in the blocky, chapter-like telling of what happened, but forgetting to imagine what it felt like. The Iron Claw, even with its unwieldy (and somewhat truncated) story, gets it just right. So many moments that could have become cliché are instead given unexpected depth. For example, Tierney's mother character could have been lost in the shuffle amongst the men, but she's given just a couple of small scenes that open an entire inner world for her.

Even while Durkin provides plenty of wrestling action, he never passes up a chance to show a little character depth amongst the pummeling; whether it's a look or a small exchange, they contain volumes. We get a strong sense of a family bond as well, expressed by a group of strong performances, both by the newcomers, and by Efron, who has evolved from eye-candy to a genuine pro.

Even the plot, which relies somewhat on random misfortunes, begins to feel organic; indeed, it takes on greater and greater significance, raising questions of destiny and control. How much can we really direct the flow of our lives? As tragic as it is though, The Iron Claw finally reaches out to find hints of forgiveness and compassion. It's an unforgettable movie.

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