Jamie Skinner reviews The Iron Claw in his latest Film of the Week: As wrestling coverage changes in the early 80s, the Von Erich family struggle with the increasing pressure put upon them to be the best.

Release Date - 9th February, Cert - 15, Run-time - 2 hour 12 minutes, Director - Sean Durkin

A casual game of football doesn’t exist in the Von Erich family. However much the four brothers would like that to be the case their father (Holt McCallany) is always on the sideline shouting at them to be the best, the strongest in the family, the state, the country, the world. What should be a fun throw-around is underpinned by the drama of not being good enough. It’s something the siblings struggle with throughout their lives, especially as coverage of wrestling changes in the early 80s and they find themselves at the forefront of the sport, hurtling towards heavyweight titles.

Kevin (Zac Efron - in the kind of dramatic role he seems to have been wanting for years) makes for our central perspective throughout this inspired-by-a-true-story tale. The biggest kick he gets out of wrestling, and life, is spending time with his family - he tells girlfriend Pam (Lily James) on their first date that he’d love a huge house where everyone can live together, kids and grandkids. However, as each brother gets closer to their father’s goals they start to feel the effects of the immense pressure put on them. They aren’t fighting with each other, but themselves; for different views on survival.

It’s tough to watch some of the second half sequences as you fear for the damage that events and decisions might cause. Not just the physical toll, which is made more than clear in the ring alone, but on the mental states of the characters too. We see, despite their exteriors - whether through the use of steroids, as we see Jeremy Allen White’s Kerry using - a weakening group, particularly in Harris Dickinson’s David; when we’re first introduced to Kevin his map of pulsing veins and muscles almost looks painful as he wakes up to immediately jump into exercise.

Even youngest sibling Mike (Stanley Simons), somewhat left behind for the build-up, gets his moment with one of the most affecting moment of the film, landing an emotional punch from a character we aren’t properly connected to for some time. It comes back to the firm Iron Claw held on the family - a move created by their father which pins opponents down to the ground, screaming in pain until they lose the match. While the film as a whole might feel slightly overlong it’s the heavier moments of drama showing just this in effect that keeps you engaged, especially on a knock-back emotional level.

There’s a consistent dramatic tension both in and out of the ring which holds engagement, and connection. It means that two worlds which should be separated feel very much the same, something which is acknowledged by the film and the eventual turns in the relationships between the Von Erich brothers, and more importantly their father. All excellently performed to emphasise the shock and emotion of key moments of intensity. The kind of brilliant ensemble cast which ensemble performance awards should be for.

Jamie Skinner, four stars ****