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This excellent 2023 movie received no Oscar nominations. Here’s why you should watch it anyway

An older married couple sit beside each other in The Iron Claw.

Professional wrestling is a sport rooted in family. From the McMahons and the Harts to the Flairs and the Rhodeses, wrestling is a family business, always has been and always will be. In the 1980s, Fritz Von Erich and his five sons – Kevin, Kerry, David, Mike, and Chris – captivated the hearts and minds of fansof the Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling. The Von Erichs were billed as an all-American, hardworking family who stood up for justice and fought against evil. The gimmick worked as the Von Erichs quickly became wrestling royalty.

By the early 1990s, a once-gifted family fell prey to what some deem a “curse” and endured unspeakable tragedies. The rise and fall of the Von Erichs became the subject of The Iron Claw, written and directed by Sean Durkin. The A24 film received overwhelmingly positive reviews and did good business in theaters, grossing around $38 million on a budget of $15 million. Yet, The Iron Claw was shut out of the Oscars, SAG Awards, and the Golden Globes. The Iron Claw receiving zero Oscar nominations is wrong at this moment, but in five years, it will look even worse.

Zac Efron has never been better

Zac Efron holds up a gold wrestling title belt in The Iron Claw.

At the center of The Iron Claw is Kevin, played by Zac Efron (The Greatest Beer Run). Kevin is the son of Fritz (Holt McCallany) and Doris Von Erich (Maura Tierney), and an older brother to David (Harris Dickinson), Kerry (Jeremy Allen White), and Mike (Stanley Simons). Being the oldest boy means becoming the de facto father figure. While Fritz rules with an iron fist, Kevin believes in sincerity, supplying his brothers with the love and support their father never provides.

Efron, by far, has the hardest job of any actor in the film. That doesn’t dismiss the performances of Dickinson, White, or Simons. Similar to his Emmy-winning role in The Bear, White excels as a tormented brother struggling to overcome his demons. However, the movie rests on Efron’s burly shoulders. While his physical transformation would make a Greek god jealous, Efron’s subtleness, silence, and warmth throughout the film are what stand out. As tragedy after tragedy occurs, Efron’s Kevin is forced to deal with the fallout, sacrificing his mental health to be the rock for his family. Efron’s performance is a tour de force and should have resulted in a Best Actor nomination.

Lily James looks at Zac Efron in The Iron Claw.

Kevin Von Erich is a role tailor-made for Efron. The 36-year-old was unfairly pigeonholed as the heartthrob after the High School Musical movies. Yet, Efron has always wanted to be a serious actor. After High School Musical 3, Efron elected to go the independent route and star in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles. Subsequent films like 17 Again, Neighbors, and That Awkward Moment all prove Efron is a charming multihyphenate who can sing, dance, and act.

Efron is a classic case of Hollywood turning against you after a few critical failures. (I’m looking at you, Baywatch and Dirty Grandpa.) By all accounts, Efron is a good guy. He just needs the right roles, and hopefully, The Iron Claw leads to more auteurs taking a chance on the talented actor.

The return of the sports biopic

A group of men hug in the center of a wrestling ring.

Fans clamoring for a sports movie outside of boxing get their wish with The Iron Claw. Sports movies thrived from the mid-1970s to the early 2000s. The Longest YardRockyHoosiersMiracleFriday Night LightsField of Dreams, A League of Their Own — I could go on forever. However, the late 2000s marked a dramatic shift in sports movies, as documentaries like 30 for 30 replaced sports biopics.

That doesn’t mean good sports movies weren’t being made. The Fighter, Moneyball, and Creed are excellent sports movies from the last 15 years. But it’s challenging to replicate iconic athletes or legendary games. Why watch an actor play an athlete when you can watch real clips of the player on YouTube? It’s why The Last Dance was a documentary, not a narrative feature, and why the film Air didn’t cast Michael Jordan.

You can’t make a wrestling movie and not show the athletes in the ring. There’s no Moneyball version of this movie. The Iron Claw nails the wrestling scenes. The commitment of the actors playing the Von Erichs to bulk up and train as wrestlers paid dividends in the scenes where the brothers share the ring. I understand why some fans are upset that Chris Von Erich was left out of the movie. I also understand why Durkin made the decision. Regardless, this is still a writer and director with an affinity for wrestling and a keen attention to detail, from replicating the Sportatorium to choreographing matches.

The Iron Claw’s depiction of brotherhood will move you to tears

The Iron Claw | Official Trailer HD | A24

The Iron Claw is essentially two movies. The first half celebrates a family that rose to the top and became champions. The second half is a Shakespearean tragedy that will break your soul. One minute, you’re jamming to Tom Sawyer and cheering for the boys in their match against the Fabulous Freebirds. The next minute, you’re gasping for air and looking for a tissue. I knew the story of the Von Erichs going into my screening, and I still cried when Efron broke down in front of his young sons.

While wrestling fans will appreciate this biopic, The Iron Claw‘s portrait of a family’s struggles to cope with grief and loss will appeal to all moviegoers. This movie will hit hard for viewers with siblings. The Von Erichs’ brotherly bond reminds us that our loved ones remain the most important things in our lives. Wrestling is not always about wins and losses. You don’t need a championship belt to make a connection with the fans. The same can be said for The Iron Claw. You don’t need an Oscar to be a great movie. The Iron Claw’s legacy will live on, with or without a trophy.

The Iron Claw can be purchased on Google Play, Prime Video, and Apple.

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Dan Girolamo
Dan is a passionate and multitalented content creator with experience in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. Throughout…
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