Steve Carrell. Channing Tatum. Mark Ruffalo.
And so many scantily clad dudes rolling around on the floor that I swear I caught Aunt Gertie staring at the screen just a little too longingly.
Bookshelf Q. Battler here after FINALLY having had the chance to catch last year’s Foxcatcher.
I’m loathe to use the word “SPOILERS” for a film about a horrific crime that’s nearly 20 years old but honestly, while I’d generally heard about the case, I didn’t know the specifics until I began reading about the film. If you’d like to find out on your own as you watch, you might want to rent it first and then read this review later.
Movieclips Trailers – Foxcatcher – Sony Pictures
Wealth. For some it’s a blessing. For others it’s a curse.
Throughout history, there have been people who have been born into great circumstances, their lives preordained before they even opened their eyes and took a look at the world for the first time.
Some individuals take the vast resources at their disposal and do their families proud, achieving new levels of greatness.
Others party hearty and are destined to become paparazzi fodder.
In the middle, there are folks who enjoy their riches, coast along and somehow manage to make jackasses of themselves.
Then there’s John du Pont. Heir to a massive chemical company fortune, he’s an odd duck to say the least. He’s socially awkward, almost painfully so. It’s like he knows what he wants to say but has a hard time expressing himself, assumably because he’s lived such a sheltered life.
The majority of the film takes place in the late 1980’s, when du Pont is in his late fifties. He lives on a sprawling estate which he dubs Foxcatcher Farm, fox hunting having been a popular activity for well-to-do visitors to the grounds.
The movie makes it clear – du Pont believes himself to be a great man and he wants the rest of the world to agree. He doesn’t really want to do anything to achieve that goal. He just wants to spend large sums of money and purchase the acclaim he believes he deserves.
At the heart of his need for glory? A rivalry with his mother Jean (played by one of the few remaining Old Hollywood stars Vanessa Redgrave) leaves him with a burning desire to prove his worth to her.
One gets the impression that the rivalry is one sided. Jean trains show horses on the estate and proudly displays her trophies in the family mansion. du Pont envies the horses and wants his mother’s attention. Despite being almost 60 years old, he’s like a little kid yearning for Mommy’s approval.
Meanwhile, brothers David (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum) Schultz have each won an Olympic gold medal for wrestling. Keep in mind we’re talking about real wrestling, the kind that involves knowledge of various moves and techniques, and not the scripted garbage on Monday night.
From the film, it’s clear the brothers have a deep love and admiration of one another, but while David has found happiness with a loving wife and family, Mark is alone, living on ramen noodles in a tiny house and at the start of the film, earning a twenty dollar gratuity for speaking at an elementary school (it’s made obvious that Mark needs that twenty bucks).
Mark feels that even though he’s earned his notoriety, anything he does is overshadowed by his brother. If he has success, the public attributes it to David’s mentorship of Mark and not Mark himself. Mark wants to accomplish something on his own, and to make matters worse, he needs money.
Enter du Pont with a miraculous offer for the Schultz brothers. du Pont wants them to come to his estate, select a wrestling team, train themselves to compete in the upcoming 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul and train their team mates while they’re at it. He’ll pay them and give them houses on his property to live in for free.
David, not wanting to uproot his family, isn’t interested. Mark, seeing a chance to break out of his brother’s shadow, takes the deal.
And for awhile he excels at Foxcatcher.
But alas, it is an understatement to say that du Pont is weird.
He insists that people refer to him as “America’s Golden Eagle.” He orchestrates a large awards ceremony for himself, and in a sad commentary about society, it’s well-attended by the rich and the powerful. He wants to be a wrestler too and organizes a senior citizen wrestling competition, only to pay off his geriatric competitor to take a dive.
That’s not all. du Pont purchases a tank with the ease that one might order a book from Amazon. When it arrives, he throws a fit that it doesn’t include a 50-caliber machine gun as promised and refuses to sign for the shipment.
He snorts cocaine with reckless abandon, takes his helicopter everywhere, and its not-so-subtly implied that his generosity towards the sport of wrestling might have been a front to allow him to roll around with young sweaty men.
Throughout his Pennsylvania community, du Pont is known as a gracious benefactor, a man who doles out the cash just so he can be a part of everything. The local police department practice on his shooting range and he shoots guns alongside them.
Poor and crazy? You’re crazy. Rich and crazy? You’re eccentric. Not to fault the movie, but if you perform a web search on du Pont, you’ll come up with an endless supply of allegations, many of which weren’t portrayed in the film. That’s not a knock on the film at all. It’s just that the man was so nuts that there just wasn’t enough time to capture it all on screen:
Some of the allegations I was able to find on the web that weren’t featured in the film:
- That du Pont put razor wire in the walls of his house because he thought it was haunted by ghosts
- He crashed multiple cars into a pond on his property
- He bought a look-alike police car and pulled over people who drove near his property.
- Believed that Nazis and Russian spies were frequenting the property, often demanding that his employees search for them.
- Kicked black wrestlers off the team claiming “the KKK runs this place”
- That du Pont, after his mother’s death, sets her horse barn on fire with the horses inside. The film only shows Carrell let the horses go. Perhaps horses being burnt up is too graphic for the screen.
Again, there wasn’t just enough time in the movie, but the film more than manages to portray the fact that the man just was not right in the head.
Steve Carrell is no stranger to playing characters who aren’t exactly grounded in reality. After all, he played the dimwitted bumbling boss Michael Scott on The Office for years. But while Scott’s antics were relatively harmless, du Pont’s instability is (and as we see later) a disaster waiting to happen.
Barely recognizable under gray hair and a large prosthetic nose, Carrell earns his Oscar nomination as he plays du Pont, capturing his overall style of a hopelessly depressed ego-maniac slash elderly man child.
If I keep going, I’ll give too much of the film away. It climaxes when du Pont, spurred on by his ongoing desire to achieve greatness (by letting others earn it for him) makes David an offer he can’t refuse to come be part of the Foxcatcher wrestling program. Mark, who’s been sucked into du Pont’s unhealthy drugging lifestyle, feels betrayed by du Pont (at one point du Pont tells Mark he understands and supports his desire to win on his own), that he’s lost his chance to win without his brother’s help, not to mention he’s under intense pressure from du Pont to succeed.
Later, Ruffalo as David makes a face as if he’s losing his soul when a documentary film maker du Pont has hired to produce a glowing film about himself asks David to say du Pont is his mentor. David is perhaps the most genuinely lovable character of the whole film, caring for his family, concerned for his brother’s well-being and at a crucial moment in the film, stands up to du Pont on Mark’s behalf.
SPOILER ALERT (Again, I hate using that term here but I have no idea what else to say.)
After losing in the 1988 Olympic games, Mark leaves the Foxcatcher program and the film ends with du Pont driving his car to David’s house.
Here’s the scary part. I’ve known for years that du Pont shot David Schultz just because it was a well-known, highly reported on crime. And I’ve been reading more about it since the movie came out.
Yet, even though I knew it was coming, I just wasn’t prepared for it and was startled anyway. While David is standing in his driveway, du Pont pulls up, asks, “Do you have a problem with me?” then shoots David.
An employee riding with du Pont who had no idea what his boss was up to tries to stop him. David’s wife comes out of the house and du Pont points his gun at her, sending her back in the house.
David struggles to crawl to safety but du Pont shoots him twice more in the back then drives back to his house to hole up.
The expressionless face, the clear lack of interest in the gravity of what he’s done…Carrell as du Pont arguably portrays a villain in that short moment that rivals Hannibal Lecter.
But while Lecter made it clear he wants to eat you, du Pont is one of those people who seems off, but no one realized just how off he was or what he was capable of until it was too late.
Accounts I’ve read online typically describe the situation in that du Pont was known throughout his community as being an oddball but his antics seemed harmless and people were happy to take advantage of the generous donations he offered, thus placating his bad behavior while failing to realize he was a ticking time bomb all along.
One can’t help but feel sorry for the Schultz brothers throughout the film. Olympic wrestlers are in a tough position. They’re paid no money to train and yet have to a) train all day in order to compete and b) still somehow find a source of income to pay their bills.
A benefactor swoops in and offers to pay them a salary and gives them houses on his estate to live in while they practice the sport they love?
Hell, be honest. You’d ignore the tank too.
If you’re interested in reading more about the case, here are two articles I found helpful:
CNN – “Foxcatcher – The Crazy du Pont Next Door” – Reporter Ann O’Neil discusses what her childhood was like living near the Foxcatcher Estate
A Millionaire Madman Murdered My Olympic Champion Brother – Jane Ridley, New York Post. Mark Schultz provides his account of the tragic loss of his brother.