Wednesday, November 19, 2014


(Bennet Miller, USA, 2014)

I was left with the phrase "senseless tragedy" buzzing in my head.  There is no faulting Bennet Miller's craft, and his actors are spectacular - Tatum is all repressed fury and sorrow, Ruffalo exudes his usual decency and intelligence, and Carrel ought to enter the annals of great portrayals of monsters in cinema, but the story offers little besides residual sadness.  In reflection, its biggest flaw seems to be in the character of du Pont.  This is no fault of Carrel's, who commits himself totally to a full-on impersonation of the sad, eventually deranged man.  Although it's clear that the filmmakers want du Pont to be a classically drawn character - with three dimensions, a history, and thus worthy of empathy - they cannot find a perspective on him other than a kind of bewildered pity.  He is doomed from the outset by his privilege and his remote, domineering mother, and so has become an overgrown adolescent: socially inept, entitled, desperately lonely.  His eventual schizophrenia is only hinted at, and the story, bowing to the crushing demands of its classical structure, becomes one of thwarted love.  We're meant to see that du Pont had something of a crush on Mark - perhaps romantic, perhaps sexual, perhaps merely the desperate seeking of companionship and validation; but it offers us no way in to this doomed attraction, since it's clear from the start that du Pont is terminally clueless in the world of human affairs.  We feel sorry for him, and we feel even more sorry for Dave Schultz when he's pointlessly murdered by du Pont, but the effect is the same as if Shultz had been hit by a bus; it comes out of nowhere, despite the story's endeavoring to make it otherwise.  We're left where we started, in Miller's oppressively somber winter of discontent: an America of fatherless boys and mad misfits, hopelessly grasping for some semblance of identity. 

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