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On The Hunt For Gold At Foxcatcher

Updated on April 4, 2015

Mark Schultz had his moment of Olympic glory at the 1984 Los Angeles, where the wrestler won the gold in his weight class. After that, he lived very modestly and trained for future competitions with his brother, David, who also won gold in 1984 and coached wrestling at a college near Mark's apartment. Mark's fortunes were about to change when a wealthy benefactor calls on him to train full time in Foxcatcher. John du Pont (Steve Carell), whose family made their fortune in the chemical industry, has put some of his fortune to the creation of a wrestling facility on his family estate where Mark (Channing Tatum) and others can live and train full time, and earn pay for their focus. John also wants David (Mark Ruffalo) to be a part of this team, which du Pont has named Team Foxcatcher. David cites his current commitments to declining the offer.

From the day they meet, John shows an unusually high level of interest in Mark. He takes Mark to his social engagements, prepares speeches for him, and intoduces Mark to certain vices of his. As John grows Team Foxcatcher, he gets disapproval from his mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), who tells her son wrestling is a low sport. That doesn't stop John from letting the wrestlers train and letting them prepare for Olympic qualifiers. Repeating Olympic glory, Mark learns, will not be easy, even though he still bests other American competitorss in his weight class. During the run up to Seoul, David decides to come to Team Foxcatcher as a coach, bringing his young family with him. In the effort to prepare, Mark decides he has had enough once the Olympics are done. David works with John to make sure Mark continues to be paid, then tries to live up to all of du Pont's expectations.

Foxcatcher takes a disturbing, but intriguiging, look at a man obsessed at making a name for himself on his terms. John du Pont held no interest in his family's longtime, award-winning pursuit of fox hunting, and fixated on wrestling, despite his mother's views. That fixation took an unhealthy interest in the Schultz brothers, never taking their interests into much consideration. John du Pont also put a lot of money into getting the top American wrestlers and the sport's top governing bodies. The film, however, never explains how du Pont managed to lure or keep David Schultz employed at du Pont's Pennsylvania estate. I suppose David simply wanted to make sure others didn't fall as heavily under their benefactor's influence as his brother did, and to make sure John continued to support Mark in his post-wrestling life.

Director Bennett Miller, whose previous films have included Capote and Moneyball, which, like Foxcatcher, have their basis in actual events, slowly shows how a man lured men he wanted in his program turns into a dictator. In one scene, John humiliates and insults Mark when Mark delays a practice so he and others can watch some TV wrestling. Throughout the film, John reminds the Schultzes who provides for them. The quietly tense script comes from Dan Futterman, who also wrote Capote, and E. Max Frye, whose previous movie script starred Paul Newman in one of his final movie roles - Where The Money Is.

Foxcatcher marks a radical departure for Carell, who's made his mark in a number of comedies. He's also done some light drama in films like Dan In Real Life and Crazy. Stupid. Love. In both, Carell played a dad dealing with family matters that also have comic moments. In Foxcatcher, he's creepy as du Pont, a man with a skewed view of patriotism. Wrestling is not his only obsession, as shown by others who come to the estate. Carell shows du Pont to be someone who has issues, struggling to stay in control, but always looking like any excuse will make him snap. John even changes his mind about whether David would be of value at Foxcatcher. Tatum looks like a potential du Pont yes man as Mark, who always seems a bit naïve, and always looks like he's endured a few too many hard takedowns (though he has written an account about his Foxcatcher experience). Mark struggled to find a niche for himself after his medal moment, and finds du Pont's offer of training and employment the best he's been offered. Ruffalo is the counterbalance to his brother and du Pont as David, a man who has moved on with his life after his final match. Still, he found the need to see that Foxcatcher did focus on athletes and athletics. Redgrave leaves an impression on her brief appearance as Jean, who doesn't care for her son's interest in wrestling, but still cares that John do his best in this endeavor.

Somewhere along the line, John du Pont, who died in 2010, became caught up in a delusion. It's one thing to take a different path in life than the one the rest of his family took. In Foxcatcher, though, John du Pont not only wants to champion amateur wrestling, but wants absolute loyalty from those in his wrestling program. His fixation on wrestling may have begun with good intentions, but du Pont lost sight of the philanthropic nature of his sponsorship. Further, one moment of golden glory doesn't always get an encore. As a result of du Pont's grandiose schemes, two brothers learned, in different ways, how problematic dealing with a man who thought himself a mentor can be.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Foxcatcher 3.5 stars. A gold medal contender.


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