“Foxcatcher” is a true life drama made by a director who seems to be making nothing but great movies based on real lives. First he nailed a great Truman Capote biopic, then he made a non-fiction book about sports statistics into the most commercially successfully baseball movie ever, and now here is Bennett Miller with the real story of John du Pont and his, shall we say, interesting foray into mentoring the U.S. men’s amateur wrestling team, which ended in what can only be described as tragedy.
John du Pont (Steve Carell, in a career changing, perception shifting performance) has the benefit of having the last name du Pont, you know, like the Du Pont family, the one that started that huge Du Pont company that makes everything? Yeah, he’s one of those old money, entitled assholes. But at first, despite being a somewhat creepy dude, he doesn’t seem so bad. He’s a philanthropist (though probably for tax reasons), a published ornithologist, and for whatever reason a philatelist, and above all else he’s a wrestling enthusiast. And that’s Olympic style, amateur wrestling, mind you. Not that Koko B. Ware versus Ricky The Dragon Steamboat fake rasslin’ shit. We’re talking about the real deal! And all he wanted to do in the mid to late 1980’s was help fund the U.S. men’s wrestling team and give them the resources needed to win gold medals. Can’t really argue against that, especially when no one else was stepping up to provide ANY support at all to the athletes hoping to represent their country in this most ancient of sports.
And that included brothers Mark and David Schultz, both gold medalists at the 1984 Olympic Games, and right at the start of the movie we see how super successful athlete Mark (Channing Tatum) still lives pretty much in poverty and has to use the local school to train with his bro David (Mark Ruffalo). He gets no support from the government and really little respect despite proving himself to be one of the best in the world at his chosen sport. But John du Pont noticed him and hired him to hand pick and train the U.S. men’s team for world competitions, and with his many inherited bucks he funded Team Foxcatcher, which lead to some success right away.
But of course this story was chosen to be made into a movie not because of the successes, but because of what brought everything crashing down. John du Pont was an awkward guy and due to his status and his own personality, he seemed to have real trouble relating to people in general, let alone people in “lower glasses,” you know, like the non-filthy rich people, which can be used to describe every single amateur wrestler in the world. So John tried to make Mark not only an employee, but a person to be mentored as well as a friend, and it went poorly for everyone. He got Mark to do things he wouldn’t have done before, and he even relayed a story to Mark about how his only friend when he was a kid was the son of a family employee who was PAID to be his friend, which makes it ironic that he only got Mark into his life in the first place with the promise of money and funding for his training.
So then when Mark does something John doesn’t like, he goes over the top with his reaction, as he is so used to getting his way all the time. For example, he decided to buy a tank from the military, and they brought it right over, calling him “sir” the whole time like selling a tank to a civilian was a normal, day to day thing. And when he finds out the tank didn’t come with a machine gun mounted on, he threw a pissy fit, and of course he ultimately got his way because his last name is Du Pont. But when things don’t go so smoothly with Mark, he makes demands, says stuff that gets into Mark’s head, and the relationship starts getting really bad. It doesn’t help matters at all when John brings David in to the mix, and suffice to say, that does not end well for anybody.
The mood of the movie is pretty dour and kind of intense, as there are lots of scenes set under gray cloudy skies and there are more than a few moments that go by with either understated music or no music at all, just tension hanging between characters, especially if you know the real story ahead of time and you know what John du Pont eventually does. There is a real sense of dread hanging over this whole thing, even in the scenes depicting Mark winning matches and positive stuff, and often the few good moments of human interaction involving John du Pont eventually turn creepy and off putting, like when he celebrated a win with the team and then got weirdly out of hand with trying to wrestle the guys.
Actually there was this thing in the movie that kind of got thrown in there and then not really mentioned again, I guess like something of a reason to show why John was having such a hard time around people, but they did touch on the fact that John seemed to like that male to male interaction, the physical contact, if you know what I mean, and I think you do, wink wink, nudge nudge, hubba hubba, know what I’m saying? And it’s not like they are positing that this guy was off his rocker because he was probably gay, but really it’s more than likely that he grew up in a super conservative family, old money after all, and they would absolutely not look kindly on one of their own turning out to be homosexual, so he probably had to fight that his whole life. His mother didn’t even want him associating with the sport of wrestling, imagine what she would have thought if he told her he was gay. But with the wrestling and his weird employer/employee, fake mentor relationship with Mark, he would take advantage of the situation and wake up Mark to take part in middle of the night grappling sessions, and there is one scene showing this and it is pretty uncomfortable watching Channing Tatum just laying on his stomach dejectedly while weird-nosed Steve Carell in a singlet grinds and spins around on top of him in what could be considered some of the absolute worst wrestling ever depicted in a movie. But it’s not the focus of the movie. It’s just another layer to John du Pont and how even a person who is handed everything might still find himself up against it and fighting a losing battle. How long could he deny himself before someone got hurt in one way or another?
Meanwhile there’s Mark Schultz this whole time, a pretty simple kind of dude, a guy who just wanted to prove that he was the best at something. The only problem for him at first was how he was kind of in the shadow of his older brother David who was just as successful, but was more gregarious and excited people more, which left Mark behind in the popularity race. He couldn’t even keep a roomful of kids interested. And then when John du Pont came around, he got into his head pretty easily and influenced him in a number of ways because he was easy enough to influence. It is a bit of a bummer to see someone like Mark just want to succeed at wrestling and then get pulled off the path, the straight and narrow, all thanks to some weirdo who paid his way into his life and decided to take it over.
Everything about this movie is well made. The moody cinematography, the sure handed direction, the compositions, the great acting from everyone involved, a touch of Vanessa Redgrave, a sense of pathos, and boom, “Foxcatcher” is one of the better movies of 2014 for sure. And never mind that a good amount of the actual story didn’t happen the way it happened in this movie, the universal truths are still there and this is still a damn fine piece of art.