Arts Review, Movies
Bennett Miller, director
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, script
Starring: Steve Carell (John Eleuthere du Pont), Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz), Vanessa Redgrave (Jean du Pont, John’s mother), Sienna Miller (Nancy Schultz)
A melancholy drama with multiple Oscar hopes, Foxcatcher explores the dark side of the American Dream. Once again Bennett Miller, the director of Capote, has turned a notorious murder case into a compelling cinematic experience. Like Capote, which gave Philip Seymour Hoffman his Academy Award win, Foxcatcher’s main actors Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are all in the Oscar hunt.
The story told by Miller and his close friend scripter Dan Futterman accompanied by veteran scenarist E. Max Frye is both well known and unexpected. In 1996, John Eleuthere du Pont shot and killed his friend Olympic gold medal wrestler Dave Schultz in front of witnesses, including Schultz’s horrified wife, at his home estate, Foxcatcher Farm. He was convicted of murder in the third degree and declared mentally ill. The question remains: why did du Pont do it?
Foxcatcher tells this story but in a roundabout way. Surprisingly, the film concentrates on the relationship between du Pont and Dave’s younger brother Mark Schultz. Mark was an Olympic gold medalist, too, but not as highly regarded as Dave, who was a great communicator, motivator and coach. Despite that, du Pont’s first approach for his scheme to create a training facility for wrestlers at Foxcatcher Farm was to Mark, not Dave. Far more vulnerable than his brother, Mark easily fell into du Pont’s plans, bringing in many of the wrestlers who had won Gold at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. Like athletes in Canada, most American Olympians struggled to find funding to practice in the years between major international tournaments, so Mark had little trouble attracting a great team to Foxcatcher.
The film depicts the relationship between the odd, nearly autistic du Pont and Mark Schultz, who clearly relished the attention he receiving from the older, very wealthy man. For Mark, to be groomed as the coach at Foxcatcher meant everything. So when du Pont decided abruptly to dump Mark as coach and hire Dave it was a true betrayal.
Instead of dealing with the apparently unmotivated murder of Dave years later, long after Mark had departed and the training facility was well established, Foxcatcher’s creative team has fashioned this completely different narrative. Still, we get a sense of who the main players in this tragedy are, thanks to the very mannered but virtuoso performance of a tamped-down Steve Carell as John Eleuthere du Pont, a typically warm portrayal of Dave Schultz by Mark Ruffalo and an absolutely riveting execution by Channing Tatum of the intense, sad character, Mark Schultz.
You get a sense of how wealth and power can trap talented but poorer men. Even Dave Schultz fell for the gradually crazier du Pont’s help and financial protection. The du Pont fortune is shown as being in the hands of a son and a mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave) who would rather play with horses or wrestlers than deal with the world. After all, they didn’t have to engage with society except in a superficial way until John’s murderous rage forced the “real world” to intervene.
Make no mistake: Foxcatcher is a taut, fascinating drama with something to say. It’s well worth seeing and as Ringo once sang, “might win an Oscar; you can never tell.”
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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