“As a whole, Foxcatcher is an exquisitely eerie depiction of troubled men – John du Pont and Mark Schultz – who desperately need one another, and allow their search for validation to delude and nearly destroy them.”

by Josh Stillman

Foxcatcher is based on the true story of Mark and Dave Schultz, two Olympic wrestler brothers, and their relationship with John Eleuthère du Pont, the eccentric heir to the DuPont chemical fortune. In the mid ’80s, du Pont established an Olympic training site on his rural Pennsylvania estate and called it Foxcatcher. He became an avid supporter of USA wrestling, among other sports, and lured both of the Schultz brothers to coach there – first Mark, then his older brother Dave, who was extraordinarily popular and successful in the wrestling community. Both men eventually recognized that du Pont, well, wasn’t quite right in the head, and made plans to leave Foxcatcher for other coaching positions. Then, in 1996, du Pont shot Dave to death in his driveway.

Directed by
Bennett Miller
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Release Date
14 November 2014
Josh’s Grade: B+

Steve Carell’s transformative performance as John du Pont has been the talk of the town since the film’s debut at Cannes, and rightly so. He is unrecognizable. And not only because of the giant prosthetic beak of a nose he wears. His du Pont is thoroughly convincing – the mechanical gait, the arrhythmic vocal cadence, the absence of social awareness that makes him both awkward and sinister – so much so that at times I forgot I was watching an actor and mistook him for the man himself. He simply disappears into the role.

But it would be a mistake to heap praise on Carell at the expense of the other two leads, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. As the younger, moodier Mark, Tatum brings an ape-like physicality to the role, all brute fury, nearly mute in his athlete’s anguish. He looks like De Niro in Raging Bull, beefed up and sporting a squashed brawler’s nose; that film is referenced even more explicitly in a scene of violent, tormented self-destruction during the Olympic trials. Tatum lack’s De Niro’s mouthy charisma; Mark Schultz, in this version of events, is chronically gloomy and downtrodden. Tatum lays on the dismay a bit thick at times, but it’s great work overall. Ruffalo, though given a smaller role as Mark’s older brother Dave, is even more effective. He inhabits the wrestler’s magnetic presence with ease, hunching and loping about with effortless confidence. You have no trouble believing he was a hero in his own time. And in what may be the movie’s best scene, he fumbles beautifully with an attempt to describe du Pont as a mentor for a documentary crew. It’s a marvel of facial performance, communicating more with his eyes and brow than most actors do with their whole bodies.
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Director Bennett Miller tells the story in the artful and calculated manner that defined his last two films, Capote and Moneyball, but this time there’s more of an emphasis on atmosphere. With the help of cinematographer Greig Fraser and composer Mychael Danna, he presents a world that is cloaked in shadow, everything cast in the somber hues of the countryside in winter. It’s all very ominous, and very slow. Some may find the pace dull, but if you allow yourself to sink into the story, it envelops you like cold silk.

Foxcatcher isn’t perfect. Miller fails to adequately explain certain changes in relationships, changes which serve as catalysts for significant plot points later on. But these are minor complaints. As a whole, Foxcatcher is an exquisitely eerie depiction of troubled men – John du Pont and Mark Schultz – who desperately need one another, and allow their search for validation to delude and nearly destroy them. And when Dave enters the picture to shine a light in an increasingly dark place, du Pont shockingly, tragically extinguishes it. The film makes you uncomfortable and sad, and in this case, that’s exactly what it needed to do.

(You can watch a video showing the actual John du Pont here)