Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher was originally scheduled for release during last year’s Oscar season but it was delayed for a year, which is usually not a good sign. But the positive buzz for this film, and especially for Steve Carell’s performance as John Du Pont, has never flagged. I never heard why the release was delayed other than the official explanation that director Bennett Miller needed more time to complete it. But since Sony waited a year to release it, instead of dumping it in February or March, they must have agreed that the film had promise.
Rich people can hide their secrets, even ones as big and obvious as insanity. Of course they have the resources to get help as well, but if they don’t want or think they need help, those resources can be used to cover it up. This can lead to tragedy if that insanity takes a dangerous turn. I vaguely remember hearing about this case on the news. John Du Pont, heir to the Du Pont chemical fortune killed Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz, played by Mark Ruffalo. How could someone with so much throw it all away?
Well the details come out in this movie, which is based on a memoir by Dave’s brother Mark, played by Channing Tatum.
John Du Pont had always been strange. He had one marriage, which was annulled after ninety days. His interests included ornithology and philately. Like many rich people, he supported charities and museums, which garnered him a lot of prestige, even though those closest to him worried about his erratic behavior. A lot of this may have been efforts to please or perhaps to annoy his mother Jean Du Pont, played by Vanessa Redgrave. She raises championship horses, like most of the Du Pont family and regards wrestling, John’s passion, as a “low” sport. Their home near Philadelphia is a horse farm, called Foxcatcher. On the grounds John has built a facility to house and train Olympic wrestlers. To help him set things up he turns to Mark Schultz. Mark, even though he also has a gold medal, does not feel as successful as his older brother and is looking for a way to get out from under his shadow. He accepts John’s offer. When John and Mark have a falling out, John brings Dave in, which leads to the tragedy.
This film has a very deliberate pace. It lumbers rather than rockets toward its climax. This slow burn is effectively mirrored in Steve Carell’s mannered performance. He plays John Du Pont as a man who is unable to engage with his surroundings. He’s there; he’s able to affect things because of his money, and yet he is absent somehow. One would never think of walking up to him and shooting the breeze. His money and most importantly his manner isolate him.
Steve Carell’s performance stands out but there are three great performances here. Channing Tatum seems to be interested in roles that go beyond the usual things he does in action adventure movies or stupid comedies. His forays into independent films where he can stretch himself are interesting and commendable. Here he plays an introverted figure. He’s not terribly sure of himself anywhere except on the mat. The relationship with his brother is close, since they train together, but there is also an uncrossed distance there, a resentment that Mark can’t let go of. Great acting is showing these contradictions and Tatum is getting good at that.
And of course Mark Ruffalo delivers a terrific performance as he always does. He plays Dave as the typical oldest sibling, strong, outgoing and competent. He knows what to do in almost every situation. The real tragedy is that he didn’t realize the danger he was in until it was too late. He dealt rationally with everybody and expected the same in return.
It is hard to know what kind of shape this movie was in this time last year, but in this Oscar season, it is going to be a major factor in the race.

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