Review: Foxcatcher

Review: Foxcatcher

Directed by Bennett Miller

Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman

Principal actors: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Vanessa Redgrave

Foxcatcher is a thriller about the real-life relationship between the philanthropist John Eleuthère du Pont and the Schultz brothers, Mark and David, both of whom won gold as free style wrestlers at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.

This is a slow-burning fuse of a film in which the personal histories and real difficulties of two lower middle class athletes meet the delusions of the millionaire John du Pont (played by Steve Carell) who sees himself as ‘the coach’, when in truth he knows little about the sport, and certainly has no professional expertise. He has simply bought his position, and bought his way into the lives of Mark and David Schultz (played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo). This charade is brilliantly revealed by the momentary appearances of John’s mother (played by Vanessa Redgrave) who in expressing her patrician distaste of wrestling exposes the fraudulent character of her son’s sporting aspirations.

Director Bennett Miller has done a great job in creating a gloomy and claustrophobic atmosphere in a world gorgeous with horses, bright sweeping lawns, helicopters, and executive jets. It is a paradox heightened by the manner in which Miller has built the film around the intensity of bodily contact between the wrestlers, in training, and in competitive bouts, without homoerotic distraction or innuendo, but with powerful physical presence and affection.

The narrative focus is upon Mark Schultz’s struggle to break free of David, his older brother. Mark attempts to establish his independence by joining the wrestling team being housed and sponsored by John du Pont at his opulent mansion set amid rolling acres in Pennsylvania.

John, a man in his sixties, pursues a close friendship with 26-year-old Mark, as he pompously impersonates the role of coach, mentor, and father figure. Mark doesn’t immediately grasp that he has merely swopped living under the wing of his older brother for the millionaire’s patronage. But, this is suddenly revealed by John’s spiteful decision to sideline Mark with the insistence “at any price” that David should come to live on the estate as an assistant coach – so displacing Mark and fatally undermining the younger man’s confidence.

John, isolated throughout his life, by vast wealth, and the sense of impunity that comes with it, knows nothing about friendship and even less about coaching. His fantastical ideas about the leadership of young men, patriotism, and success, leads to unraveling tensions that end in a murder, which for all its anticipation, both startles and shocks, as John seeks to eliminate the unsupportable reality that David Schultz was always the real coach.

In all respects this is a fine picture.

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