Sunday, November 30, 2014


 2.5 / 5 

For a movie about a crime as violent and passionate as murder, Foxcatcher is a strangely detached affair, virtually devoid of emotion but filled with shots of chilly, foggy, icy surroundings.  It's so overloaded with technique that there's no room left for anything else.

At times, director Bennett Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman seem to be aiming for a cynical commentary of the "patriotic" privilege of America's wealthiest citizens.  At others, it's a character study of lonely people isolated by money -- in Foxcatcher, the central characters either have too much of it or not enough.  And in other moments, it's a mildly interesting exploration of the mentally unhinged John Eleuthere du Pont, heir to the chemical company fortune.

In 1996, du Pont shot and killed Olympic wrestling gold medalist Dave Schultz, whose brother Mark had been trained by du Pont at the family's vast Pennsylvania estate.

Though Foxcatcher ultimately leads up to the shocking shooting death, the movie isn't so much about du Pont and Dave Schultz as it is about the obscenely wealthy and emotionally stunted billionaire and his relationship with Mark, a withdrawn, socially awkward man who becomes, for a time, the center of du Pont's world.

Played by Channing Tatum, Mark Schultz is all instinct and brawn.  He's not a man who thinks much about anything, especially his station in life.  When he's supposed to be inspiring elementary school students with the story of how he became a gold medalist, Mark stammers and sputters and manages to spit out a few words about patriotism and American values, but not many.  He probably has never really thought too much about these things before.

He's neither unhappy nor content living in a squalid apartment, eating fast-food burgers and making Top Ramen in Tupperware containers.  His brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), meanwhile, is trying to parlay his athletic success into something a little more interesting, and urges Mark to do the same.

One night, Mark's phone rings and a matter-of-fact man on the other end of the line says that John du Pont would like to meet Mark.  The wrestler, who walks with a hulking gait and punches himself as motivation, has no idea why, but he's whisked off in a helicopter to the rolling hills outside Philadelphia, where du Pont (Steve Carell) drones on with a poorly considered speech about American values and ideals.

Du Pont wants the U.S. to win another gold medal, and he thinks Mark deserves to be the best wrestler in the world.  He sets Mark up in "the chalet," a spacious house on the Foxcatcher Farms estate, and pays him $25,000 a year to train there.

Mark and du Pont develop the sort of emotional attachment that happens when two people, otherwise ill-equipped for the world, find each other.  It doesn't take long before du Pont is buying suits for Mark, encouraging him to attend State dinners, and offering him lines of cocaine (this is 1987, after all).

But du Pont has a bigger prize to try to reel in -- Dave, the more emotionally anchored, clearly more intelligent, of the brothers.  Dave has no interest in moving to Foxcatcher, Mark can't seem to persuade him, and the tension ratchets up a little bit in these moments.

It all goes slack again, even after one surprising moment that sets the rest of the story in action, when du Pont lets Mark see the bully he hides within, the spoiled brat who always gets what he wants.  But du Pont is Mark's only ticket to winning in Seoul in 1988, and without any other options, he stays on.

It doesn't go well.  Mark starts cracking up.  du Pont, upon hearing of the death of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave, in about three scenes), loses it, too.  The emotional stakes have changed.

Or, at least they've changed on paper, because nothing much changes at all in Foxcatcher.  The movie's languid, refined camera work floats through scenes and countryside, letting us see the surroundings without ever really letting us in to the motives or thoughts of the character.

By the time (and, as I indicated in the lede, this is not a spoiler -- the movie's about a murder) the gun fires and one character is on the ground bleeding, it's tough to know exactly what the motive might have been, even though we've been watching these characters for more than two hours.  Even on screen, no one seems to know quite what to do, because this critical moment is built on such little emotional evidence.  It just happens.

Foxcatcher left me intrigued to find out more about the real du Pont-Schultz case, to learn more about the drugs and, it seems safe to assume based on what is heavily implied here, the sex.  Something was going on up at Foxcatcher, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt that they were training for wrestling, but that wasn't all they were doing, not by a longshot.

The actors are stellar across the board -- Ruffalo is more in command of his character than I've seen him in ages; Tatum finally rids himself of the hot-but-dumb stereotypes that have plagued him, and Carell is undeniably mesmerizing in every scene he's in (which is most of them), though anyone truly surprised by him here has clearly failed to take note of his work in films like Hope Springs, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (a remarkably under seen film) or Crazy Stupid Love.

Yes, he's a revelation in Foxcatcher, but no more so than he's been a revaluation to audiences for year who have only seen him as Michael Scott.  The man can act, and he doesn't even need the false teeth and prosthetic nose he wears here.  When it comes to leading actors who can do anything, Carell is clearly the real deal.

Foxcatcher itself, though, is decidedly less so.  It's not a film serious filmgoers should skip, by any means -- it's just the kind of movie that when the lights come up while the credits are playing, your instinct isn't to sit in your seat and honor all the men and women whose passions went into this project.  Mostly you just want to look for a good place to eat.  Foxcatcher doesn't register enough emotional or philosophical weight to make you care about much else other than whether sushi or a burger sounds better.

Viewed 11/29/14 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks



  1. I just saw this movie and could not have been more bored. You learned nothing about the real people in the film, what might have influenced them to be the people you were watching at that point in their life. Plus it didn't help that I had just heard an old interview with Mark, so I knew they had taken a few liberties with the real story, though honestly didn't think that it made it any better. Maybe a sign that this movie didn't really need to be made. Also, I didn't think the performances were so amazing. Just cause someone can sit in a makeup chair for three hours doesn't mean they are doing a brilliant job of acting. I really hated this movie.

  2. Every movie deserves to take liberties with the facts, but when a film presents itself as austerely as "based on a true story" as "Foxcatcher" does, you do expect a little more fidelity -- for instance, eight years elapsed between the Seoul Olympics and the murder, while the movie makes it look like it happened a few months later. I was not bored, but I did become quite impatient for something to happen that would illuminate the film's characters and motives, but mostly "Foxcatcher" gave us shots of cannons, fall leaves and snow-covered hillsides.