Foxcatcher (***): It doesn’t take a genius to be born into money

foxcatcher-poster

Foxcatcher – 2014

Director Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall
Screenplay by E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

A story about misfits can be a sweet thing about overcoming adversity. In the case of Mark (Tatum) and Dave Shultz’ (Ruffalo) intersection with John “Golden Eagle” du Pont (Carrell), it is an eerie and dangerous collision course.  A Gold medal winner in the 1984 Olympics, Mark Shultz still struggles to eke out a living in his quest for Seoul 1988. He meets up with du Pont, who recruits him as he is creating a team of wrestlers called “Foxcatcher,” based on the du Pont family historical lore. What he’s really looking for is a friend, and for a while this paid friendship works. Du Pont discovers that the limited success that the team has does nothing to overcome his mother’s lack of respect for him. Introducing Mark to the trap of cocaine sends him into a spiral.

At this point, du Pont brings in Dave to help coach the team, but this does not inspire any more affection from his mother. Success becomes more elusive for Mark, and he eventually leaves the team. John finds the break too much for his psyche to handle and tragedy ensues.

The story is one of envy and self-hatred on two fronts. Mark is grateful to Dave, who is an excellent competitor with a gentle spirit. He is unable to rise above his brother’s patronage though. Carrell’s du Pont is almost completely corrupted by what he understands about success being a member of his family. like growing inside a festering wound, he has no idea he is part of the infection. Both understand that they are miserable, however, and although they find a temporary solace in one another, there is not enough true individual soul to either one of them for it to last long.

Carrell and Tatum do more acting here than they’ve ever had to in the past. Even so, it is not a stretch to see Tatum as a somber meathead or Carrell as a damaged obsessive. They’ve done variations on this theme before. The true gem in Foxcatcher is Ruffalo, who embodies a normal guy, dedicated family man, athlete and coach all at once. His ability to move between the varying levels of psychosis of his brother and benefactor is the most complex and satisfying aspect of the story. His connection to reality is a tether for both, but also a source of envy.

One impressive aspect of the performance that is matched by Tatum is that both brothers have the look of wrestlers, down the overly developed abdominal region that results in a consistent lurch. Every single step looks like they are ready to drag a knee to the mat to create or escape from a move. More than that for Ruffalo, he’s always ready to give of himself. His knowledge, his time, his body and ultimately much more.

Overall the effect of the movie is chilling and an overwhelming sense of dread. We know tragedy awaits, but we have to see it though. I can’t say it is an incredibly compelling viewing, as much as it is disturbing.  There is no real drive behind Mark Shultz that one can identify with and du Pont is crazy as one would think.

Ultimately, there could be nominations for this film, but it would not be for the right reason. Carrell has received a lot of good press and so has Tatum. This will go over like Natalie Portman’s Black Swan turn. Those who’ve been wanting to impressed will grab all the good and ignore how average the overall effect of the film is until years go by and they realize they never will watch it again. Meanwhile, Ruffalo will go on doing Oscar worthy stuff under the radar.

If you want to get a real chill, take the time to watch the documentary that they made about his Foxcatcher program. Just knowing how it turned out and how he saw himself  is expressed better here in 15 minutes than it was in 2 hours with Bennett, Tatum and Carrell:

(*** out of *****)

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