“Foxcatcher” – a film review by Gary Chew
Occasionally, there comes a movie that makes me uncomfortable but because it’s so well-made with an engrossing script and brilliant acting, I just grit my teeth and say to myself, “This is worth watching anyway — no matter I’m feeling my skin intermittently crawl.” For me, Foxcatcher is one of those.
Generally, I’m not a big fan of sports movies or pictures that take most their psychological hook from violence and grisly outcomes. And have you noticed lately how popular such films continue to be, as well as those violence-fill video games that sell at the drop of a hand grenade?
On the surface, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is all about wrestling; championship Olympic wrestling, dramatically taken from events that happened in the eighties. I only vaguely remember the event, as it wasn’t of much interest for me. A film by Miller that loudly rings in my head is Capote. Another by Miller about sport that’s not easy to remember is Moneyball.
The true story that’s told in Foxcatcher is about Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic wrestling champ and one of the producers of the movie. Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) was Mark’s older brother; also a revered Olympic wrestler. John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell), a member of the multimillion dollar chemical dynasty, was an avid wrestling fan and sometimes an actual participant on the mat.
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s script chronicles du Pont’s obsession for wrestling and his overblown sense of patriotism and for winning. The latter trait is the only thing that du Pont shares with Mark and Dave. The Schultz brothers are blue collar: Dave, a married man with children and probably the movie’s only completely sane lead character.
Mark is a solitary, unsocial kind of guy. His constant brooding is coupled with an almost ruthless desire to be the greatest on anybody’s wrestling mat. The script doesn’t explain to any extent why Mark displays this anguish. I could only guess.
Mark is brought under the financial wing of du Pont and takes up residence on the du Pont estate where he trains at a du Pont-funded gym in preparation for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea. Mark wants Dave to drop his wrestling coach job and move with him for the intense training. The money is good but Dave, not wanting to uproot his family, declines. Ultimately, Dave is drawn to the du Pont site in Pennsylvania, bringing his wife and children with him.
Great conflict erupts among the three as the training progresses. Even du Pont’s elderly mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave, makes physical and psychological forays into the emotional mess of insuring victory for the U.S. and resolving, if possible, the delusions of du Pont and the triangular tensions among him and the Schultz brothers.
The elephant on the Foxcatcher set is the latent emotions among the three. No homosexual scenes are contained in the movie, but subliminally, I could hear the blaring silence of three cymbals crashing together. The outcome of that inward din among the trio is tragic.
Steve Carell is what I call just plain great as du Pont. Some are saying Carell has surprised them he could stretch to such an acting career switch. I’m not surprised at all. His earlier turns in Little Miss Sunshine and The 40-Year-Old Virgin told me he could do heavy roles if he took a mind to. Sure enough, he did. At this juncture in the Oscar race, I’d say it’s either him or Michael Keaton (Birdman) as the probable winner of the Best Male Actor Oscar.
Channing Tatum is perfectly cast as the surly Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo never gives a bad performance. It’s a talented threesome that shows up for this unsettling and powerful movie.