This is a film about wrestling. That alone is enough to put off most Brits as it is seen more as a pantomime than a serious sport. So it is jarring to see the opening shots of Channing Tatum’s wrestling champ Mark Schultz practicing hurling a huge dummy around in a scruffy gym, then putting on his olympic medal to give an inspirational talk to pre-teens in a local school. At first Tatum seems to be yet another pile of muscle with few brains, but as the story unravels we see him to be far more complex.
His brother and fellow champion is played brilliantly by Mark Ruffalo and their warmups are more like gentle bonding, reassuring exercises, a means of communication largely beyond the ability of Mark.
But then Mark gets a call from the fabulously rich John du Pont offers to bankroll him to train for the 1988 olympics, he immediately packs up his few belongings and heads for a life of comfort but extreme isolation, when his brother refuses to uproot his family to join him.
Steve Carrel plays du Pont with cold eccentricity, a man answerable to nobody except perhaps his horse loving mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave) who complains of wrestling as being ‘very low’.
Surrounded by the best facilities and fellow trainees, Mark should have thrived, but his relationship with duPont soon becomes seriously dysfuncional, and we see the slow slide towards the horrific endgame.
The acting is all great, the slowness, the sense of impending doom is there without clues to distract us from it. That said, I hesitate to call it a great film, because there is so little in it, it follows a simple linear narrative, so nothing clever there and I didn’t realise till the end that it was based on a true story, which suggests the filmmakers were being polite to the du Pont family. But perhaps that is it’s strength, as an antidote to all the noisy, clever stuff that’s out there. Definitely worth a look.