I am not going to even pretend that this movie didn’t disturb me somewhat. I purposely didn’t read too much about the film so as not to spoil anything before I went to the screening and I would suggest to all to not do so either because even though it’s easy to look it up and see what happens, not knowing was mind-blowing to say the least. That being said, I knew it was about wrestling..that much was plainly apparent. Having being a wrestling-stat girl in high school (whooohooo 🙂 ) gave me a helping hand as I understood and could follow that part of the film along well which was a plus. But to describe this as simply a ‘wrestling’ movie would be doing it a complete dis-service as it’s more a characterization film than anything else.
“John du Pont” (an unrecognizable Steve Carell) is a very rich man..heir to the du Pont fortune, with some very clear ‘mommy issues’. He is obsessed with all sorts of odd things; birds, trophies, military grade weapons, tanks ~ pretty much anything but the horses his mother likes, and wrestling..Olympic style wrestling to be precise. He is also a man who calls himself ‘Eagle’ or ‘Golden Eagle’ all clearly for his own benefit as no one actually calls him this as it’s really a moniker that he made up for his own ego.
In this obsession with wrestling steps in Gold Medalists and brothers “Mark Schultz” (Channing Tatum) and “David Schultz” (Mark Ruffalo). We can see from the start that Mark Schultz is a monosyllabic loner, interested only in wrestling. He sticks out his jaw in neanderthal-like fashion and mumbles his way through a speech for a bunch of elementary school kids, talking about patriotism. It’s when the school secretary makes out the check that we realize that it was supposed to be Dave giving the speech all along. In contrast to Mark’s hulk and bulk, Dave is small, affable and completely at ease with himself and with others. As they train together it is clear that the older brother’s job is that of father, trainer and anger manager. Their lives are inextricably linked all the while being poles apart.
Alone in his dingy flat, Mark receives a mystery phone call from someone on behalf of John du Pont inviting him to Pennsylvania. With the world championships looming and the Seoul Olympics three years away, Mr. du Pont offers Mark an incredible opportunity to train and live on his estate. Mark snaps up the offer, but Dave declines. This is where the sinister du Pont sees his chance to mold and corrupt his oh-so-naive and seemingly dim-ish protege. Giving him luxuries never before experienced, but also turning him into a addicted cocaine & alcohol abuser, finally taking his control freak persona too far by slapping Mark in the face when he fails to follow his commands. And of course rebellion ensues at that point from Mark as it would with probably anyone at that point.
Much has been written about whether Carell could escape his comedy persona for this out of the box role, but he really steps up to the plate here and completely embodies du Pont with the perfect amount of creep and mental instability. With his prosthetic nose, tiny teeth and grey skin, he looks as if he could have been poisoned by the chemicals that made his family’s fortune. This tiny friendless man lives under the thumb of a clearly dominate mother “Jean du Pont” (Vanessa Redgrave), whose goal of trying to impress and aim to please her constantly falls short. du Pont seems to be an in-the-closet rich, mentally unbalanced gay man, whose interest in wrestling is the creepy way he craves the physical contact he enjoys with the other team participants and the control he can exert over it all being their benefactor of sorts.
Foxcatcher shows us the corruptive, toxic and devastating power warp side of how some people with money can take advantage of that situation in all the wrong ways. When Mark states that his brother can’t be bought, we watch du Pont digesting this information. Not long after, lo and behold, Dave and family are there comfortably ensconced on the estate, just as Mark is on his way out. But throughout his time with du Pont, Dave never sells himself and he is the one character for whom the allure of money holds no power, while Mark turns and almost on purposely loses a treasured spot in the Olympic trials in his own way of pissing off the now hated du Pont. While Ruffalo is good here, I felt he was a bit too old to make the role convincing for me. If Mark states he is only 27 at the beginning and even by say a much older brother standards, Dave could be 37..So Ruffalo, at real age 47, while still a good performance, just doesn’t come off right for me in this role whereas Tatum & Carell both really blow me away.
While Foxcatcher has slow drawn out parts and pauses, there are also many aspects that combine to make this a very good film: the three leads’ performances, the design, as du Pont’s home gradually empties of his mother’s equestrianism trophies and fills with eagles and arms; the sounds of grunting wrestlers, birds and helicopters – and the long paused out silences. This film takes us on the Schultz brothers’ journey and leads us to the terrible ending denouncement in this subtle and horrifying and true-story parable of what money can and can’t buy.
Having a follow-up Q & A with Director: Bennett Miller & Actor: Steve Carell was not only eye-opening insight into the film, but yes, with Carell you know you are always going to have a bit of a laugh no matter the hard-line subject matter of the film. While Miller had some good notes to share including the fact that “the full story is even stranger, Miller said; in fact, he noted, the movie “dials it back” in scenes that showcased du Pont in full freak mode, firing guns on his estate and otherwise behaving erratically.” He came off as a bit abrupt in annoyance almost to the point of rude at times even interrupting Carell during his answers. But lightening the mood some was Carell with his opening answer to the moderator Sneider who asked about the artistry behind Carell’s dramatic transformation into his characterization of du Pont, to which Carell jokingly replied, “There was no hair and makeup.” 😀 Then noting a few points: “The weirdest thing about it was not necessarily watching it happen and then looking in the mirror and saying, ‘Ooooh, I’m a different guy,’ but it was how other people reacted to me once I was in all of that stuff,” Carell said, recounting how his driver was disturbed by him in the du Pont makeup. “He would tell me on the drive back to the hotel, ‘Man, I just don’t like being around that other guy.’
“Du Pont had a very specific manner about him and a very specific physicality, and those things, I think, conspired to push other people away from him. He was off-putting, and it had the same effect with me naturally on set — I generally ate lunch by myself — but I think it ultimately was a good thing to have that kind of separation from the other actors.”
All in all I liked the film. But more so than that, I liked the performances again, especially strong by Tatum & Carell and that will have me giving a higher grade overall to the film.
(Wrap Oscar Screening on December 11th at Landmark Theatres (Westwood) Foxcatcher is playing in theatres nationwide).
(See grading scale)