Wrestling with the Wealthy

Foxcatcher

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Director: Bennett Miller

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall

Capote and Moneyball director Bennett Miller returns to the more sinister side of American life: wealth, competitiveness and guns in his new film Foxcatcher.

In some interesting casting choices, Miller assembles comedian Steve Carell along with action star Channing Tatum (GI Joe: Rise of the Cobra, Magic Mike) and the talented Mark Ruffalo in a three man drama about a truly bizarre actual series of events which occurred between the mid 1980’s to the mid 1990’s in Pennsylvania, America.

Foxcatcher is the true story of heir to the multi-million dollar Du Pont Family fortune, John E. Du Pont, creepily played against type by Carell whose wealth and influence entices the young Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, who has won gold at the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles to train at the Foxcatcher Farm.

Du Pont was an eccentric man, living on the vast estate in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, known as Foxcatcher Farms, heir to the incredible Du Pont family fortune, whose money was made in chemicals and ammunition manufacturing over two and a half centuries in America since the family first arrived in the States from France at the beginning of the 19th Century. This is old American money, built up over generations, in the tradition of the Gettys, the Hiltons, the Astors and the Vanderbilts.

John E. Dupont, heir to a $100 million family fortune has always been overshadowed by his disapproving mother Jean Du Pont, coldly played by a rarely seen Vanessa Redgrave (Howard’s End), who even paid people to be friends with him. To state that he never quite fitted in was an understatement. Du Pont was an ornithologist, an avid philatelist (stamp collector), a gun collector and oddly enough, an ambitious coach of male wrestling http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Eleuth%C3%A8re_du_Pont.

On the other end of the spectrum is the young and impressionable Schultz, expertly played by Channing Tatum in one of his best screen performances ever, who has trouble articulating for a public speech, who is battling for money and is desperately trying to escape the shadow of his older brother, a fellow wrestler and family man, Dave Schultz, wonderfully underplayed by Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are Alright, The Normal Heart).

Du Pont invites Mark Schultz to train at his Foxcatcher Farm in Newtown, Pennsylvania, a vast estate, in preparation for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He also would like the older more responsible Dave to be there, but in a rare glimpse of rivalry, Mark tells Du Pont that his brother cannot be bought, not realizing that with this type of wealth anybody can be bought.

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Soon Mark Schultz is socially seduced by the eerie Du Pont and invited to stay at the Foxcatcher farm to become part of team Foxcatcher. The younger Schultz even gets introduced to East Coast high society in a bizarre scene whereby Du Pont offers him cocaine in his private helicopter on the way to a glamorous charity event in Washington D. C.

What Miller does so well is set up this strange but surreal dichotomy between the eccentric and hugely influential Du Pont and the weird intensely physical world of male wrestling, which is part bravado and more homo-erotic than spectators care to admit.

Du Pont creates a haven for USA Wrestling to flourish in his own private dominion soon enticing both the Schultz brothers into Team Foxcatcher in an effort to recapture their glory at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

In a rare scene between Carell and Redgrave, wealthy mother and renegade heir apparent, she tells him that his infatuation with male wrestling is low. This sets the stage for an even more devastating end to the sinister relations between Du Pont and the Schultz brothers.

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In re-imagining a truly bizarre encounter with the superrich, Miller does not captivate the viewer in Foxcatcher, like director Barbet Schroeder did so brilliantly in a similar eighties true life drama Reversal of Fortune with the Claus von Bulow case, but then again Steve Carell is not quite Oscar winner Jeremy Irons.

Director Miller instead downplays the historical aspects of the actual events and leaves the viewer hungry for more details, not to mention motive. The end result is a deeply disturbing film, excellently acted especially by Tatum and Carell, but nevertheless wanting for more. After all Foxcatcher isn’t as fine a film as Capote or as tightly directed even though Miller did win the Palm d’Or for Best Director at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

If viewers have not researched the actual story behind Du Pont’s involvement with the Schultz’s brothers, Foxcatcher could appear as bizarrely fictional as it is actually real. Nevertheless the lingering sense of suspense and unease is perfectly captured against the raw aggression and male physicality of competitive wrestling, a sport as old as the Olympic Games itself. Recommended viewing for those that like All Good Things and Reversal of Fortune.

 

 

 

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