By Bill Arceneaux
As Mark Schultz drives through the countryside, car commercial-style music plays, evoking the idea of ‘Murica Americana. With time to think and much to chew on, thoughts of hope, dreams and a better republic float through his head. Just a few years ago, he was an Olympic Gold Medalist in Wrestling. Just a few hours ago, he was living in a crappy apartment, eating Ramen noodles. Now, he has a chance for glory once again.
And it’s all thanks to one man: John Du Pont.
Foxcatcher is the (relatively) true crime story of the murder of Dave Schultz by one John Du Pont, heir to the Du Pont fortune. It is also a tale of how we carry burdens of the past with us, how we deal with it all, and how people can get caught in the middle (I dare not say crossfire, but there it is). It’s comedic at times, depressing and unnerving at others, but a near masterpiece throughout.
While Steve Carell may get top billing for his performance of Du Pont (and that’s understandable), this is really the Channing Tatum acting show. Tatum plays Mark as a down on his luck fella, wearing his sulkiness in the way he walks — almost as if he’s afraid his muscles will fall off his bones. He is constantly training, preparing for a match that may never come. But, you do what you gotta do to remain sharp, even and especially when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This movie may be getting attention for acting (not from Tatum, though that is a mistake), but it’s the writing and direction that make it all work here. Director Bennett Miller and company craft scenes of simple and quiet mat exercises and turn them into therapy sessions. Moments like when Mark eats a burger in his car have a stark loneliness and deep despair associated with them — which is about right if you’ve ever parked and eaten fast food by yourself. Miller understands how best to express what’s being felt and what should be felt, all while keeping things at a consistent pace. A master at work.
I brought up Steve Carell very briefly before. On the Foxcatcher poster, his figure is given prominence, front and center. Clearly, the film has been marketed around what he does. Unfortunately, I think he may have been miscast. No, he’s not terrible — just serviceable. He plays Du Pont as if he’s that boss from TV’s The Office doing an impression of Du Pont. In fact, there are scenes, like when he pretends to be coaching for the benefit of his mother, that copy his Office characters’ shenanigans when he knows a camera is in front of him. It works, but not because of him.
When putting on a show for his mother, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) sees through what Du Pont is doing, and reads him like a book. Interactions between the two men afterwards take on an uneasy air, as one is more will-powered and less inadequate than the other. This is due in part to the additional actors, the quality of the script and the high caliber directing. When Du Pont and Mark are just having a lazy day, sitting on a porch and enjoying each others company, many things are evoked beyond what is literally happening. When Mark sits by Du Pont’s legs, it’s almost as if he, at this point, has become a lapdog of sorts. Not one that’s part of the family, mind you. More like a trophy pet. The dialogue exchanged may be suggesting the men are equal, but they are most certainly not — at least, not to Du Pont. Carell does well in the scene, but it’s the writing and direction that helped bring out him the chops needed.
To say that Foxcatcher was a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. I was uncertain of the film going into it, having been burnt out on biopics as of late. But, much like Mark making a sports entrance through smoke, I came out of the fog with a clear and level head.
And it’s all thanks to one man: Bennett Miller.
Best Moment: The helicopter ride to an important speech.
Worst Moment: The climatic crime sequence.
Advice: People – especially wrestlers – are not toys.
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