Review: “Foxcatcher”

John du Pont is funding a film crew to visit Foxcatcher Farms to make a documentary about the wrestling team he strong-handedly bought. It’s an update, perhaps, to the du Pont Family history video he shares with all of his guests, but he’s the star and it’s slanted at painting du Pont as a wrestling mentor for Olympic champions and as a patriot.

Recently acquired coach Dave Schultz, easily the most respected voice on the team, is asked to sit down in front of a camera and talk about du Pont glowingly. But he can’t. He freezes, over and over again, because an honest family man whose brother has been destroyed by the billionaire’s influence can’t lie no matter how hansom the salary is the finally convinced him to uproot his family and move.

If there’s one scene so quiet in Foxcatcher that speaks so loudly, it’s this one, when Schultz sits in the studio-lit gym stomaching his rage. After much trial and error, the director gets Schultz to spit out the phrase he wants but anybody with eyes in the room or watching it later on TV or video would be able to spot the insincerity. It sets up the uncomfortable aftermath from Mark leaving the farm after the 1988 Olympics and every awkward, nerve-wracking interaction between Dave and Mr. du Pont afterward including the last.

It’s amazing what du Pont’s money could buy him. He bought national recognition, even a large stake in Team USA wrestling which agreed, for a price, to make Foxcatcher Farms its permanent training grounds. But all of his ventures failed and he spiraled out of control. He couldn’t buy his friends after all.

Steve Carell’s performance as the psychotic, socially awkward billionaire is one you will never forget and one that will alter the actor’s career forever. He is so frightening and yet so painful in truly becoming his character. In both his speech and physical movements you see an unimaginable transformation into someone delirious enough to kill and overkill.

Mark Schultz’s relationship with du Pont is complicated. There’s a challenging scene during Olympic Trials for Channing Tatum, who plays Mark, as he binge’s on room service dessert after losing his opening round match. He destroys the hotel room, smashes his head into a mirror and crashes asleep. As Tatum’s best sequence, his brother saves him and then puts him through hell to lose 12 pounds in 90 minutes. It’s a physically exhausting challenge for the actor, who’s just beginning to show his frustration with du Pont. You see Mark fuming — anger boiling up behind his eyes — as he watches Dave outside the workout room door trying to keep du Pont out and away from his infuriated brother.

Though there seem to be holes in why du Pont and Mark’s relationship became so tense, the scene is still so good. The way the story is written, or not written, is that the tension may have primarily been built from Mark’s disappointment in himself and his ambivalence to the poor influence du Pont has been, introducing him to cocaine that wipes out his ambition and wasting much of Mark’s time by turning him into a coach for himself to get on the senior citizen amateur wrestling circuit. You leave the theater thinking there had to have been more to it and if you read up on the real story a bit, you realize maybe there was.

Foxcatcher is directed so intimately by Bennett Miller that this particular story hole feels like a loss, but there’s only so much you can do with a long, complicated period of time. The film already starts off slowly as it is. Even so, Miller’s made the right choice and has the right eye directing the film. It’s intimacy is impossible not to notice and Mark Ruffalo, as Dave Schultz, thrives in it. Dave and Mark Schultz’s relationship, one between brothers with the same career, is one that only could’ve been told through a tight lens as it becomes clear Dave is the only person who understands his brother.

“Foxcatcher”: ★★★

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