Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher photo starrating-4andahalfstars.jpgThere’s something very disturbing about Foxcatcher. It’s more than a mere biographical drama. It is a multilayered character study detailing 3 personalities – an expose on humanity so raw, that it becomes uncomfortable viewing. On the one side we have John Eleuthère du Pont, an heir to the family fortune of the chemical company. On the other we have Mark Schultz, Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and younger brother to the even more celebrated wrestler David Schultz.

Foxcatcher highlights career best performances by the three principals. Steve Carrel, outfitted with a prosthetic nose and old age makeup, is unrecognizable as John du Pont. He is a multimillionaire, philanthropist ornithologist and most importantly, wrestling enthusiast. He aims to fund the U.S. team and get Mark to the ’88 Olympics. But he is a peculiar fellow. He lives in the shadow of his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and indirectly seeks her blessing in his endeavors. Regrettably his prodigious net worth obscures his lack of expertise. When she appears at a practice one day, he immediately leaps to his feet, taking control of the class with his awkward directions as she looks on. As he continues to address the class in his mock coaching effort, she exits the room unimpressed. For all his wealth and privilege, an air of melancholy surrounds him. His philanthropic efforts notwithstanding, he is someone to be pitied more than admired.

Mark eats fast food alone in his car. Later he heats instant noodles in his spartan apartment. These scenes are shortcuts that establish a grim milieu. Despite his athletic titles and awards, Mark’s life isn’t that spectacular. Channing Tatum may look like a wrestler but he is cast against type as the callow youth seeking approval. His ever increasing despondency is a concern. Then he is invited by du Pont (Steve Carell) to help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility. Schultz jumps at the opportunity. Du Pont wants his brother Dave too, but he is unmoved by the offer at the moment. Family comes first in Dave’s life. When Mark checks into a cottage on his estate, things seem too good to be true. It seems that Mark has finally stepped out from under his more successful sibling, Dave.

Mark Ruffalo has perhaps the most difficult role as Dave Schultz. It is the slightest of the three parts and the least awards bait-y. Yet his positive presence helps alleviate the tension. He conveys such admirable devotion to his younger brother in simple gestures. The brothers engage in sparring fights intended to sharpen their wrestling skills, but even those have a tender intimacy. Their competitive affiliation goes through several stages during the course of the film. Their bond is exacerbated when du Pont makes an offer Dave can’t refuse. As the events unfold to the inevitable conclusion, there is an anxiety that hangs over the surroundings like a thick fog of fear. Sounds like I’m describing a horror movie. Indeed, this rumination transpires not unlike a tale of dread. If you are unfamiliar with the true life story, you should keep it that way until after you’ve seen the production. Though not vital, the saga is best appreciated without prior knowledge.

Foxcatcher is about insecurities, validation and obsession. As such, the dark drama relies heavily on mood. The narrative is quiet, insidious even. As it sneakily unfolds you never quite know where the focus lies. Certainly this is an attack on how wealth can buy standing in arenas to which you don‘t belong. John du Pont and Mark Schultz are two dejected souls that initially needed each other. The screenplay logically makes connections between the various characters and ties them together. As du Pont seeks support from his mother, so too does Mark seeks the same from du Pont. Their interdependence is a portrait of unease. Additionally the genuine fraternal love amongst brothers is contrasted with the oppressive demands that du Pont puts upon Mark. Du Pont is needy to the point of being unstable. His complicated rapport with Mark is rooted in unrealized hopes. Undoubtedly he lives vicariously through the success of these developing athletes. But the full extent of those desires are cryptic and belie a tortured personality. The script subtly hints at things that are implied but never explicitly stared.  Foxcatcher brilliantly handles all of these emotionally complex relationships in a skillful way. Capote, Moneyball and now Foxcatcher – Director Bennett Miller has established a knack for these fables based on fact. It is a deeply troubling film and I mean that in the most profound way.

11-10-14

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17 Responses to “Foxcatcher”

  1. Well I’m sure curious. Nice post–I look forward to watching it.

  2. Great review. Can’t wait to see these performances!

  3. I really, really, really hope this expands to a wider release. A MUCH wider release. Box Office Mojo is trying to tell me that it’s only playing in 6 U.S. theaters, and that’s a pretty huge level of unacceptable in my book. It seems like a possibility, since Sony Pictures Classics’ last film for Bennett Miller (Capote, of course) started in 12 theaters and expanded eventually to somewhere around 1,500.

    The DuPont family is a really prestigious name up here in Pennsylvania/Delaware area, so I feel like I’m obligated to see this, more than I’m obligated to see any other movie this year. Plus it won Best Director at the Festival de Film de Cannes (and I do love Bennett Miller’s last two films), Steve Carell’s been praised ever since this entered competition at Cannes, and your review reaffirms all of that.

  4. i really hated moneyball, but i was blown away by this one. i’m so glad that you’ve given credit to ruffalo, who i think is terrific in this film. second only to carrell. tatum is serviceable

  5. You know how I first claimed Interstellar to be my top priority of the year? That all changed when this came into view some couple months ago (for me, I’m sure this has been a known property for the more attentive of us! ha) and I was sure this might be among the elites of the year. This review does nothing to change that expectation.

    Mark I’m looking to you when I come back disappointed. (Don’t worry, I’m sure this won’t happen. Our tastes are too similar. 😀 😀 )

  6. Pretty dark movie. So eery and mysterious. 3 performances were outstanding. Carel and Tatum were very different and so good. Ruffalo was surprisingly good too. I forgot he was in the movie, but glad he was. 4 1/2 stars.

  7. So excited to see this – lovely review!
    I know she has a small role, but how was Sienna Miller?

    • She plays the wife of Mark Ruffalo’s character. Her part is so small you barely even see her. Wait for American Sniper. She has much more of a presence in that.

  8. I enjoyed reading your take even though I was utterly disappointed in the movie. I did think Ruffalo and especially Tatum were very good, but Carell just didn’t do it for me.

    • Hmmm, that’s surprising to me. Ruffalo and Tatum were my faves too, but Steve Carell was quite good. There’s still a lot of buzz surrounding him for a Best Actor nomination although his chances are declining.

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