Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 2014. Annapurna Pictures, Likely Story, Media Rights Capital. Screenplay by E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman. Cinematography by Greig Fraser. Produced by Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller. Music by Rob Simonsen. Production Design by Jess Gonchor. Costume Design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone. Film Editing by Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill. Academy Awards 2014. American Film Institute 2014. Cannes Film Festival 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Gotham Awards 2014. Independent Spirit Awards 2014. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
The true story of wrestling champions Mark and David Schultz is brought to the screen by Bennett Miller, reuniting with Capote writer Dan Futterman (here sharing credit with E. Max Frye) for another grisly fact-based crime film told with unnerving simplicity. The brothers were both Olympic gold medalists at the 1984 games who were looking to repeat their success in Seoul 1988, with David (Mark Ruffalo) making his name as a trainer and Max (Channing Tatum) struggling to make ends meet with public appearances while keeping up his aptitude on the mat. Mark is approached by the magnificently wealthy chemical manufacturing heir John Du Pont (a devastating Steve Carell) and invited to join a team he is putting together that will give America the heroes that will restore their faith in the nation, and the young man jumps at the chance. Arriving at the sprawling Du Pont estate, Max is given the red-carpet treatment with which he can hone his abilities in the lap of luxury, at the same time developing a dependent relationship on a father figure who turns out to be much more complex than he at first seems. Was Du Pont truly interested in being a leader and celebrating the abilities of these men, or does he surround himself with virile young bodies as an attempt to make up for his own insecurities as an outsider who never felt like he was one of the guys? It would be easy to see his moments of grappling the odd young fellow on the floor as sublimated sexual desire, but it’s more likely that his aims were covetous instead of carnal (though neither Futterman nor Miller are necessarily adamant about separating the two). Du Pont was looking to actually become one of these boys by doing anything short of devouring them whole, made so much more disturbing by Carell’s dead eyes and flat voice betraying a volatile personality that is always a millisecond away from being violently displeased. Vanessa Redgrave contributes unforgettable moments as a matriarch who easily explains her son’s unstable pathology, while the brilliantly describes a rotten aristocracy brought to its knees by insecurity and unchecked authority without resorting to any kind of 99% pandering or hysterical melodrama. The superb acting and subtle action are a perfectly smooth ride through a story that pays off enormously by the time it concludes, the actors all outstanding with Carell outpacing them all.