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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

‘The Iron Claw’: not wrestling film

Holt McCallany (from left), Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Stanley Simons and Harris Dickinson stand in a circle. The group of actors make up the main cast of “The Iron Claw.” (Brian Roedel | A24)

When it comes to film, I tend not to like the most masculine ones out there. I thought “The Godfather” was an objectively great movie, but I don’t really care for it. Westerns are my least favorite genre; I would much rather watch a good noir-romance. 

So, when 2023’s “The Iron Claw” was first teased, I knew I was not the target audience.

A film about a family of wrestlers with a soundtrack of ‘80s dad rock: No thanks.

However, rave reviews of some of the leading roles and a perfectly styled trailer slowly reeled me to the theater to watch it. 

A grainy black-and-white fight jumps onto screen, lit with bright lights similar to the spotlight of a wrestling ring. From the first shot of the film, I knew I had misjudged it.

From there, I was hooked. 

By the time I left the theater, I realized “The Iron Claw” wasn’t a wrestling movie; it was a film about mental health and family. Oh, and it is also my second favorite film to release in 2023 (only behind “Oppenheimer”).

Honestly, it’s difficult to get a hold on what makes “The Iron Claw” different from other films like it. 

In my estimation, it’s the care that goes into every aspect of the film – besides Zac Efron’s costumes for some reason. 

Speaking of which, Zac Efron’s performance as Kevin Von Erich was phenomenal. The sorrow of losing everything – your brothers and your dreams – was so clear on his face. Each movement was full of depth that led to myself – along with some of the best up-and-coming actors – hoping for Oscar noms for Efron. 

On top of that, the supporting performances by Jeremy Allen White, Holt McCallany, Maura Tierney and Lily James were all phenomenal and full of an emotional depth that was weirdly perfect for a movie about wrestling. 

For me though, the standout of the movie was its cinematography. 

Mátyás Erdély’s shot selection and lighting were absurd, in a good way. Shots jumped from light to dark quickly, showing the detachment of the characters. The repeated shot of Efron sleeping under the desk at the wrestling venue is heartbreaking, inspiring and outright glorious. 

Everyone talks about an actor’s “Oscar moment”; the desk shots were Erdély’s moment.

It may not beat out Hoyte van Hoytema’s massive and expansive job on “Oppenheimer,” Rodrigo Prieto’s calm yet intensely physical shots in “Killers of the Flower Moon” or Matthew Libatique’s over-the-top artsy beauty in “Maestro,” but Erdély deserves his share of flowers. 

Of course, touching on the film’s music is a must.

The soundtrack is highlighted by the roaring “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” by the great Blue Öyster Cult and the perfect pump song: Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.”

The divorced dad rock soundtrack is not my typical listening, but that doesn’t matter here. 

Each song starts and ends exactly when needed to amplify the mood and energy of the film. 

When the drums of “Tom Sawyer” kicked in, I sat up straighter and more alert than I had been before, ready to see the fight and the cinematic glory that was about to hit the screen. 

Without touching on the plot too much, the ending is destructive; I cried – a few times at that – and I could hear I was not the only one to do so in my theater. 

When Efron delivers his final line to his kids, it was almost too much to bear. 

“The Iron Claw” is a film that has its hands tightly grasped on retro Americana and the assumptions and lifestyle that go along with that. It is a deep meditation on what it means to work hard – and too hard – and how family is one of the most impactful things in a person’s life. Oh, and it’s about wrestling too, I guess. 


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