When I read this story in the newspaper in the mid-90s, I was fascinated by it. I thought it would be the craziest murder that ever happened in sports (O.J. Simpson rivaled that). Hearing a movie was being made about it excited me. The problem is, director Bennett Miller did the film. He took other interesting characters and made them boring on screen (Capote, Moneyball). This movie is two hours and 10 minutes, and the pacing is difficult to take, especially with repetitive scenes.
That doesn’t mean it’s not beautifully shot. It doesn’t mean the three performances aren’t solid. Yet, just as John du Pont (Steve Carell) wants to win Olympic gold medals, I think Miller wants to win gold statues at Oscar time. He got them for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jonah Hill. Truth be told, as much as Carell is getting praised for this role, it’s a bit exaggerated and the latex and fake nose do all the heavy lifting. Perhaps if Miller was more interested in making a better movie and not impressing Oscar voters or the film festival circuit, we would’ve had a great psychological thriller. It’s dull films like this that give indie flicks a bad name.
This real life story ended (SPOILER ALERT) with du Pont, a billionaire, murdering his coach and former Olympic gold medalist, David Shultz (Mark Ruffalo).
It wasn’t until we recently heard about all the problems with Olympic wrestling (as of now, it won’t be in the Olympics), that you realize just how important it probably was when du Pont showed interest and donated money and his training facility, on an 800 acre estate. Yet, I would’ve liked a lot more details about wrestling. It also would’ve been interesting for the movie to show that one of his previous assistant coaches quit when du Pont made sexual advances. That was settled out of court.
That doesn’t mean we don’t get some interesting scenes. The affection David has for his younger brother is wonderful, especially in a well-written scene with them working out together (and no dialogue).
Watching as Chaning Tatum shows he can actually act (although he does play this slightly dumb, brooding character a lot). The way he gets angry having to live under his brother’s shadow, and the enthusiasm he gets when du Pont shows such interest in him. When he’s handed a check for $10,000 and is so appreciative, we think of the early scene where he had to get a $20 check from an elementary school he did a speaking engagement at. The kids were bored, and the school actually wanted his older brother (despite them both being Olympic gold medalists).
The way scenes are shot in the snow show a foreboding doom that was nicely done, but damn…would it have killed them to make this a bit more exciting? It’s wrestling. It’s got crazy people. Give us something!!!!!
When I see a movie that starts with the words “based on true events” I do some research afterwards to answer some of my questions. That never turns out well. Right now it’s 2:00 in the morning as I write this, and I have to be up in four hours, and I’m reading about how the mother (Vanessa Redgrave) was dead seven years before this even happened. In the movie, she occasionally shows up being disapproving of such a “low sport” and showing the hatred she has for her son. It also gives us a scene with David expressing his condolences to du Pont when she dies. Also, we’re lead to believe (SPOILER ALERT) that the shooting happened a few weeks after the younger brother moved off the estate. It actually happened seven years later.
All the awkward interactions between various characters was interesting. Mark Ruffalo was always great. The way he delicately handles his Neanderthal brother was touching. Perhaps they could’ve instead focused on his coaching career with du Pont (since he was there for seven years), instead of du Pont’s crush on the younger brother (I assume it was a crush, we’re never told du Pont is gay in the film).
When you deal with a person that has millions, and they’re mentally unstable — it can be a fascinating story. Especially when you throw guns into the mix. Those types often pull their guns out and shoot at things (right, Phil Spector?). We get one scene of du Pont shooting the ceiling at a wrestling practice, and that’s really the only one that suggests he has a bizarre obsession with weapons. Oh wait…he did have a tank delivered to his house, and refused to pay for it when it didn’t come with a certain machine gun. Anyway, my point still stands.
In my review of the latest Hunger Games, I said it was a half hour of material made into a two hour film. Well, the show Forensic Files could’ve done a great job with this story in 30 minutes.
It gets 2 stars out of 5.