Film Reviews

FOXCATCHER

By • Nov 30th, 2014 •

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Carell is mesmerizing but nominations should also go to Tatum for an equally vanity-free performance. The acting succeeds while the story lacks a more in-depth study of a very complex relationship.

There’s no spoiler here: magnificently wealthy – the best kind clearly is inherited wealth – John du Pont (Steve Carell) is a strange man who is determined to “coach” a wrestling team to Olympic gold. Instead of having a hospital wing named after him, du Pont chooses to name his wrestling team “Foxcatcher”, the name of his – his mother’s – mammoth 44-room Foxcatcher Farm estate in Pennsylvania.

This is the world of privilege where anything you want has always been given to you without the need for a justifying reason. Such wealth gives a person something beyond material things – it is something so rare – the permission to be as strange as you want to be. You can express yourself without censure. You pay people to facilitate whatever you want.

In John’s trophy room, he has one of the first U.S. flags made.

FOXCATCHER begins in 1996 and John du Pont is 50 years old and living with his mother. Or rather, I assume, living in a separate wing. Stern and not assumed, Mrs. Du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave) has a singular passion – expensive horses. John has found a clever way to express the need he has for male contact – wrestling. It also is a way to enrage his mother since she believes such a sport is demeaning for a wealthy member of an aristocratic family. No matter what John “achieves” in wrestling, Mrs. Du Pont is not impressed.

And while the homoerotic subtext is missing in FOXCATCHER, we know it’s there even though the director, Bennett Miller, has chosen to ignore it.

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) are both Olympic gold medalists in wrestling. Dave is regarded as Mark’s Professor Higgins. Mark is living a true Spartan life while training for the next Olympic Games. He earns $20 by giving pep talks to school kids. John invites Mark to Foxcatcher and offers to fund his training. He will pay Mark a lot of money, give him a fantastic house to live in on the property, and let him pick his teammates. John has also built a state-of-the-art wrestling facility. Mark is in awe.

There is only one condition: Mark has to bring his brother Dave to Pennsylvania.

Dave has absolutely no desire to leave. His wife Nancy (Sienna Miller – who is 2014’s movie wife of the year) and two children do not want to move. No matter how much John offers Dave, no matter how large the house on the estate, he still refuses.

Mark becomes John’s de facto “son” and begins socializing with his aristocratic circle. There are conditions, of course. Mark has to praise and credit John for all his success as he begins the process of being selected for the U.S. wrestling team.

SPOILERS AHEAD…
By now, John has introduced Mark to the world of alcohol and cocaine. A rich man’s cocaine never ends. Mark begins to train less. He gets tired of those nightly “practice” sessions with John. When Mark loses a match that he should have easily won, John demands Dave move to Pennsylvania to “co-coach”.

Whatever arrangement was made – it must have been a “Godfather offer,” the family re-locates. Now John has everything he wants. He “coaches” and has a group of adoring young men to wrestle with. But something goes wrong between John and Mark. It is not made clear – or at least I missed it. An angry word? A push and shove? And that’s it? Or did John’s demands on his protégé become more complicated?

According to FOXCATCHER’S screenwriters, E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, John disrespected Mark and Mark left in a huff.

Director Bennett Miller cannot offer even an implication as to what subsequently then drove the wedge between John
and Dave.

Sure, John was creepy, kind of socially inept and weird but when you fund a wrestling team exclusively, you expect more than a medal your mother refuses to put in the trophy room.

All of a sudden, John is waving a gun.

Yes, Steve Carell’s transformation is brilliant but his performance as de Pont goes much further than makeup. The way he walks, holds his head, uses his nose as a tool indicating his displeasure and keeps his body still, is remarkable. It is a bravado performance.

Praise also should go to Channing Tatum who deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Tatum gained a lot of weight and dropped his movie star persona. He’s awkward and juts his chin out. He’s at his emotional peak here and should stay on this trajectory. Okay, I know MAGIC MIKE XXL is set for 2015 (but Tatum is credited as co-writer on this one), and I loved 22 JUMP STREET, but his performance in FOXCATCHER is strong.

Mark Ruffalo is reliably terrific and looks great in a singlet. Carell’s vanity is nowhere to be seen, as he wears John’s 50-plus body with confidence.

The film is based on Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz and David Thomas. Once again, as with THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, so many things that would have fleshed out or at least offered an explanation, are removed. Maybe the du Pont heirs objected. Maybe Mark Schultz kept some things to himself. Or, maybe the filmmakers chose to present the story of du Pont and wrestling without crucifying du Pont.

I have not read Mark Schultz’s book. However, the research I did on du Pont says he was sued by other athletes for unwanted sexual touching of the genitals and demanding sexual liaisons with them. He created a wrestling move – he called it “Foxcatcher Five” – whereby he could touch the genitals of other wrestlers. Due to du Pont’s “Foxcatcher Five” and behavior towards the other wrestlers, Villanova University had to shut down the varsity wrestling program he created.

So, du Pont was well-known in wrestling circles. Every wrestler who went to Foxcatcher’s training camp knew what might happen if du Pont took a liking to them.

Since the rest of what I read is fascinating, I will tell you what the film left out.

A theory why du Pont killed Dave Schultz has been offered but is not in the film.

Mark Schultz, in an interview for ThePostGame, discussed his unsettling relationship with du Pont, his reflections on his brother’s murder 18 years later, and du Pont’s grizzly secret Mark kept in confidence.

“A lot of people don’t know this about du Pont, but he was actually a eunuch,” Schultz says. “I think it explains a lot about his personality. He had to take artificial testosterone supplements. He was thrown onto a fence by a horse and hurt his testicles, and then they got infected and he lost them.”

ThePostGame also asked Schultz about being on the set of FOXCATCHER. His response is worthwhile reprinting here.

“When we were filming, it was not fun. The set was real quiet. It was dark. Channing Tatum’s wife came on the set and was supposed to stay for a week. She only stayed three days. It was that unpleasant. Mark Ruffalo had never been involved in anything like this. Steve Carell, he was so different, so uncomfortable to be around, the way he looked like du Pont, and he wasn’t talking very much, he wasn’t pleasant.” www.thepostgame.com/blog/men-action/201411/foxcatcher-mark-schultz-john-du-pont-secrets-movie-tatum-ruffalo

Member of Boadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society:www.lvfcs.org

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at masauu@aol.com.

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