Pretty sure this is a common take as opposed to a hot one, but Zac Efron is a fine actor who just hasn’t quite broken through with a huge hit in a dramatic role.
We know he can go full himbo mode to flex his comedy chops (and muscles, duh) in projects like the two Neighbors flicks. There’s plenty of proof he can excel as more serious, austere or even disturbing characters (read: Ted Bundy). Unfortunately, those performances have gotten a little lost in the shuffle.
Well hell. Count on A24 to pull through, come from the top rope, and match Efron up with The Bear lead Jeremy Allen White for an incredibly compelling biographical film, The Iron Claw.
The triumph and tragedy of a true American sports dynasty.
Watch the official trailer for Sean Durkin’s #TheIronClaw, starring Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, Maura Tierney, Stanley Simons, with Holt McCallany and Lily James. In Theaters Everywhere December 22. pic.twitter.com/RhxjAtwNQE
Based on the true story of the Von Erich wrestling family — actual surname Adkisson — the trailer is electrifying. Excellent cinematography, a real dark, gritty feel to set the scene and what looks to be a ton of outstanding thesps doing their thing.
An ominous warning kicks everything off, though, as Efron’s Kevin Von Erich says, “Ever since I was a child, people said my family was cursed.”
This “curse” isn’t meant to be literal, of course. That said, there’s no denying this family was struck with a greater share of loss than anyone should ever have to withstand.
As we can see in the trailer, the patriarchal Fritz Von Erich (Holt McCallany of Mindhunter fame) is pushing his boys to follow in his footsteps and create a pro wrestling dynasty within his promotion, World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW).
The title of the movie comes from his signature wrestling move. To me, it has a somewhat abstract, dual meaning to underscore what’s passed down from a father to son(s), or parent to any children for that matter.
Many stories on the silver screen tread over this familiar thematic territory: “What is the cost of achieving greatness, and is it worth it?” In the case of the Von Erich family, it’s innately more complicated. The first Von Erich son, Jackie, drowned at just seven years old in 1959.
In fact, Kevin is the only one of Fritz’s sons who survived past his 33rd birthday.
Kerry (played by White) shot himself in the heart at 33 years old in 1993. A brutal motorcycle accident and painkiller addiction pushed the five-time world champion to lows he couldn’t recover from. That’s touched on a bit in this clip below from Vice‘s documentary Dark Side of the Ring; Kevin is briefly interviewed:
Before then, David (portrayed by Harris Dickinson in The Iron Claw) died of acute enteritis at 25 in 1984. Another brother Mike suffered from toxic shock syndrome after undergoing shoulder surgery, which ultimately ended his wrestling career. He then injected himself with a fatal dose of tranquilizers in 1987. He was only 23 at the time.
Finally, Chris Von Erich — who isn’t on The Iron Claw cast list — did his best to live up to the family name in the ring despite a shorter stature, bones that would break often and asthma. He didn’t wind up having the same success many of his siblings did, which led to severe depression and his committing suicide in 1991 at 21 years old.
This story has been out there for decades, so it’s not traditional spoiler territory to discuss all this. Pro wrestling is a sprawling narrative in and of itself, which should make for a compelling watch as the filmmakers explore the Von Erich rise to prominence. But damn, I don’t think I’m ready to see the tragic downfall that’ll inevitably ensue before the credits roll.
As tough as it’ll be to witness this movie unfold, at least it appears the creative talent is taking great care to do justice to this family’s legacy. All indications are, too, that this could be the true type of prime-career breakout turn that Zac Efron has longed for.
There’s a ton more information in the video below about the Von Erich family. With a December 22 release date, The Iron Claw is being positioned as an awards-season darling. Between A24’s support, a stellar cast and a surreal-but-true story to tell, everything’s lining up for this pic to be a big hit.