In the sprawling Du Pont family home, there is a room referred to as the trophy room. Its walls are lined with ribbons and medals and a bounty of trophies featuring gleaming silver horses. “Horses are stupid” says John Du Pont (Steve Carrell), who prefers wrestling, though his dear, ultra-wealthy mother considers it a “low sport.” It’s funny he has such a disdain for horses since he seems to treat his own pet wrestler no better than a dog.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic gold medal winner but has lived his life in the shadow of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympian, and arguably the better wrestler. Mark’s living the unglamorous life of an amateur athlete, surviving on one $20 cheque at a time when Du Pont swoops in to offer him not just sponsorship, but mentorship. Desperate, Mark accepts.
Steve Carrell is nearly unrecognizable as Du Pont, and I don’t mean the prosthetic nose. I mean he walks Du Pont and talks Du Pont and hunches his shoulders and has this stillness and almost emptiness about him that’s kind of chilling and really restrained and very well done. Matt played the Oscar card in his review and I can’t help but agree. Every time he’s on screen, he’s giving out a vibe that makes you uncomfortable but prohibits you from looking away. Du Pont is basically soulless and he attempts to buy himself a biography with cash. He’s got an interest in sports but no qualifications – luckily, as long as you embroider ‘coach’ on your jacket, no one second guesses you when you’ve got millions in the bank. Carrell and Tatum both spend much of the movie in silence, so much so that a coked-up scene on a helicopter where the two repeat polysyllabic words is one of the “funnest” scenes in the movie. For the most part, it’s slow and mumbly and dark, dark, dark.
I actually think Tatum was the perfect choice to play the physically strong but emotionally stunted athlete. He comes alive in the gym, on the mat, but seems subdued and uncomfortable in almost any other setting. We see him as vulnerable and feel that somehow Du Pont has taken advantage of him, even though it’s clear he’s an adult. The movie relies on what’s not said between these two, because Du Pont is socially inept and Schultz is a dull bulb. But wordy or not, I needed something more from this movie. We never know the true nature of the relationship between Du Pont and his protégé. There’s a lot of tension and creepiness and stuff we don’t feel good about, even some erratic behaviour from Du Pont, but nothing that can really explain the drastic event at the end. I mean, what the hell? It’s not fair to spring that on us, you need to earn it, even if we knew all along we were in for some violent end.
The movie works best as a commentary on America and on social inequity than as a true-crime caper. Director Bennett Miller makes his movie as if he’s a journalist, not a story-teller. We are presented with facts; emotions are observed but not delved into. The whole thing is cold. And when shit hits the fan, we knew it was coming, but we still don’t know why.