They say the difference between “mad” and “eccentric” is money. A statement arguably well suited to a description of multi millionaire and self styled American patriot John Du Pont (Steve Carrell).
This is a true story based on fact and recollections detailed in books written by those involved and others.
Brothers David (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) are gold medal winning wrestlers. David is a family man, considered, reasonable and always looking out for his brother. Mark is a less world-wise younger man, not making it in the world, despite his sporting success.
The brothers are preparing for the “Worlds” and subsequent Seoul Olympics in 1988, their resources are stretched and facilities basic. Mark gets a call from Du Pont, a very rich man who lives on an extensive estate with his mother and their thoroughbred horses.
Du Pont wants to help by providing purpose built facilities, funding and support to the US wrestling team, most notably Mark and if he can persuade him, his brother David.
Understandably Mark’s head is turned, this is a world he never knew existed let alone ever been part of. Helicopter and private jet travel to events and no money worries. Exactly what does Du Pont want in return?
Du Pont is a man that clearly would occupy much psychologist’s time, if ever given an opportunity. The film does much to sketch out, if not really explore his motivations. Not only a supporter of amateur athletics he was a noted ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist a combination the characters themselves make fun of at one point.
Du Pont is desperate to be “involved”, being in the wrestlers corner, being considered their coach and mentor is important to him with a capital “I”. At one excruciating point, making a visible channel through a crowded group, so his mother can watch him coaching the group with nonsensical moves. The awkwardness is palpable but as he represents the money, eccentricities are largely tolerated or ignored.
Carrell is all but unrecognisable, both physically and with mannerisms and speech patterns far from his usual self. There is no wise cracking here, just staccato words, poorly formed and expressed. Saying the right things yet in the wrong order or vice versa, desperately attempting to fit in, yet always falling short.
Whether selling arms to the government as part of his business empire or demanding night-time training sessions, there is a constant sense of dread that none of this can end well. The psycho-sexual undertones are hinted at but never fully explored but there is more than enough on the surface, to occupy a two hour film.
Tatum is good, playing a role very different to his usual swagger, Ruffalo as the every-man, knowing much, yet staying put to help protect his brother, is also a stand-out. His quiet humanity when faced with something he cannot understand is well portrayed.
Carrell is superb, completely shedding his usual persona by portraying a thoroughly unlikeable and considerably odd man, yet managing not to lose the audience in the process.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is difficult to believe all those involved did not just run in the opposite direction but money and lots of it, is hard to resist, a Faustian deal if you will.
For those with more interest, a quick Google search will provide plenty of additional information
A difficult but ultimately rewarding watch with excellent performances from Carrell, Tatum and Ruffalo.
A dark Shakespearean tragedy or train wreck played out in slow motion. The audience gradually realising a crescendo is building, with profound impact for all concerned.