“Foxcatcher” (2014): A Flawed Golden Eagle (Review)
What I loved about Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is that it is the first time in my recent memory that I have been confronted exclusively by the emotional turmoil and sentimental projections of (three) men in a film. Here, women are given limited screen time of heavy emotional investment; it’s a boys’ club but not in a way that is exclusionary but rather refreshingly profound, touching, and saddening. It isolates the three of these characters to their significant interactions edged with slight humor, hero worship, and depraved emotional dependency, leaving out much of the world that surrounds them. It is a valiant attempt to breathe life into the strange and still unexplained events that sealed the fate of famed athlete David Schultz but ultimately fails in capturing a sense of urgency and suspense of what’s to come
At the opening of the film in 1987, the men of Foxcatcher are very much defined by their circumstances. Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), soon after his gold medal-win at the 1984 Olympics, is relegated to a life of $20 speaking engagements originally scheduled for his brother David, hurriedly eating fast food alone in his car, and sitting quietly in his drab rented apartment, utterly detached. In contrast, David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), also a ’84 Olympic gold medal winner, engages everyone around him, exuding a charm and air of confidence and success that spills over to his life as a loving husband and father and revered wrestler and coach. Way in Pennsylvania at the multi-acre Foxcatcher Farm, John du Pont (Steve Carell) sits, stewing in his vast wealth, writing an occasional bird book, and making desperate attempts to please and impress his crabby elderly mother. A wrestling novice fancing himself a leader of men, he dreams up an idea to both make a name for himself in the movement of American patriotism and forge deeply desired connections with others.
And this is where the story really begins. du Pont manipulates his way into the Schultz family, recruiting Mark to the newly developed Team Foxcatcher for the purposes of winning the 1988 Soeul Olympics, exploiting his financial deficits and emotional need to step out shadows of his brother as go-to wrestling elite. But David is the real end-all prize to Du Pont, something that becomes increasingly apparent to Mark, fueling the rift between the brothers and his make-shift father-son relationship with du Pont. It’s a never ending cycle for him; he is humiliated and dejected once again. But as Mark’s forever champion, David thwarts all of Mark’s attempt to self-destruct and joins in Mark’s depise of Du Pont for the psychological damage he has inflicted. And as Bennett Miller contrives, this just might have gotten him murdered.
I found within each actor something special that came through in many successful transformative moments, the instances of bad posture, awkward canters, and carefully crafted mannerisms. Steve Carell handles the oddball antics of chemical heir John du Pont well, giving us a portrait of a man who was increasing troubled, weirdly attracted to fire arms, and constantly using his money to be idolized but failing at every turn. While at times it feels like we are getting a collection impressions with du Pont in his slow and deeply paused monologues, he won me over in his uneasy, troubled interactions with Tatum. Every moment with Tatum and Ruffalo felt convincingly warm and human just have brothers should be.
The film only flirts with the idea of a cautionary thriller. Gone is a rounded presentation of his supposed mental condition hidden, which supposedly played such a big role in the real life story or even a deeper analysis of the disturbing issues surrounding the care of people with mental illness. This is a drawback and for me, a missed opportunity. Though there were many instances where I felt the film did not go far enough in its impending sense of dread for the fateful shooting that would punctuate the concluding moments. Instead the movie invests much of its time in two pursuits, constructing the often tense yet loving relationship between the brothers through Mark’s natural expertise and defined life to David’s lonliness and determination and showcasing the oddity that was John du Pont.
The Good: A thought-provoking, man-centered character drama
The Bad: All setup, no suspense
The Ugly: Channing Tatum’s frosted tips