Bennett Miller’s new film, based on true events, is an extremely cold, creepy and brilliant examination of the spookiest edges of the male psyche. It is methodical, deliberate, kind of heartbreaking, but mostly simply chilling. I loved it.
Attention is being called towards Steve Carell’s transformative performance as the creepy John DuPont, and for Awards Season he’s being touted for “Best Actor”, which is totally fair enough as, in what is essentially a three-hander, he’s the antagonist, and thus a “lead”. But, really, this film is built solidly on a remarkable three-piece ensemble, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo giving no less inspiring, and deeply skilful, performances.
Tatum and Ruffalo play real-life US wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic Gold Medallists both, who are conscripted by gazillion-heir John Du Pont to spearhead a training unit of wrestlers with the goal of achieving success at the 1988 Games in Seoul. Exactly why Du Pont wants to do such a thing with his money and, essentially, his life; how he goes about it; and how the brothers respond to him and the claustrophobic atmosphere of his camp form the sinew of the mysterious and ever-foreboding drama.
And it is foreboding. The film is a hundred and twenty-nine minutes of menace, all cloudy skies, peculiar conversations and chilly rooms and landscapes. Du Pont is a creep and Miller and Carell don’t soften him an inch. But the Schultzes, to varying degrees, are no angels either, and everyone’s got an agenda. The film is admirably restrained in keeping their goals, if not obtuse, at least opaque; it’s an extremely intelligent film that allows for great degrees of analysis, interpretation and speculation. Miller’s measured pacing and the film’s overwhelmingly bleak tone are not geared to the YouTube generation; this is a thoughtful, adult movie, and quite brilliant.