Film Review – Foxcatcher
The awards buzz swirling around Foxcatcher is no joke. Advertisements rely heavily on the tour de force performance by a nearly unrecognizable Steve Carell, and he puts in arguably the best performance of his career as an increasingly unhinged heir to the Du Pont family fortune. Add to that a seething and incredible turn from Channing Tatum and a crazy-but-true story hook and you’ve got yourself a major contender for Best Picture, right? Probably…but you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s deserved.
Tatum stars as real-life Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, a prone-to-anger brute looking to step out from the shadow of his older and more accomplished brother David (played wonderfully by Mark Ruffalo). You might think an Olympic gold medalist has no reason to be so perpetually down in the dumps but we learn early on that this status does not award instant fame and fortune. Mark is broke. A wrenching early moment shows him having to jump through a series of hoops just to cash a 20 dollar check and then harshly cuts to him expressionlessly eating what I’m going to call the most depressing fast food hamburger ever seen on film. And while it’s never said (Mark is a man of few words), his resentment towards David seems to stem less from his athletic success and more from the fact that he has a family. Something to work for. Something to come home to. And then in walks Du Pont. Father figure, mentor…and batshit nuts.
Carell depicts Du Pont as an attention craved lunatic intent on convincing the youth of today of his importance. It’s never exactly clear what drew him to the sport of wrestling and it’s easy to imagine it’s just one of many hobbies or phases he’s cavalierly thrown money at throughout his lifetime. He probably has an entire garage full of model train sets and Pokemon cards.
Du Pont invites Mark out to his palatial Pennsylvania estate and convinces him to move there, ostensibly to train for the 1988 Olympics as the star recruit of Team Foxcatcher, Viewing this as a great opportunity for both him and his brother, Mark, with the conniving assistance of Du Pont, eventually convinces David to come out as well. The bond between Mark and Du Pont quickly shifts from saccharine to sadistic. While never explicitly stated, there are some severe sexual undertones lingering in each of their shared scenes. And the cocaine. Good god the cocaine.
Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has carved quite a little niche for himself as the go-to prestige director for “based on true events” type stories. Oscar nominated and a proven talent, the announcement that he’d direct Foxcatcher seemed to me like a sure thing. After all, if someone can make something as dull as baseball statistics exciting, what CAN’T he do? Sadly, though, this one misses the mark substantially. The performances by all three leads are fantastic, and a later scene in which David brims with disdain when pressured to refer to Du Pont as a mentor goes to show what this movie could and should have been. But it is by all accounts structurally unsound. If you’re looking for the tension that’s so expertly ratcheted up in the film’s trailer, you may need to prepare yourself for disappointment.
I’ll refrain from spoiling the movie’s killer (hehe) ending, but it comes off as having been spliced in from a wholly different picture. The payoff is unearned and, worse, unclear. What was the true motivation for this despicable act and how did we even get there? For those answers I’d recommend skipping Foxcatcher and bee-lining it to Wikipedia.