based upon a tragic and fairly well-remembered true crime story which took
place in the mid-1990s. (It happened right in my area, so it was a huge
story here.) One day, for no apparent motive, one of the heirs of the vast
du Pont Chemical fortune shot and killed a former Olympic gold-medalist
wrestler. Victim Dave Schultz was a respected coach and family man working
for du Pont as a trainer for his wrestling team – a costly hobby that du
Pont considered his calling in life.
the smoke cleared on the case, many more questions sprang up than were
answered. Dave Schultz was widely respected, well liked, a born diplomat
and a hard worker. What led du Pont to drive to his house one day and
without warning shoot the man three times?
turned out that du Pont had a very complicated relationship with Schultz and
his younger brother Mark, another wrestler who also gained a Gold Medal but
had never quite reached Dave’s heights. Mark was an angry, bitter and less
talented athlete, but he was the one who had first worked with du Pont and
had urged Dave to come to du Pont’s Delaware County, PA compound to work
with du Pont. It turned out to be a connection that shattered all three
lives, and many others around them.
Director Bennett Miller, who has made a sort of specialty of telling true
stories on celluloid (he previously made Capote and Moneyball),
has a wonderful eye American tales. Foxcatcher may be his best film
yet. It is certainly his most suspenseful.
even though most people know exactly how the film is going to end, it still
packs a shocking wallop. It seems almost random, a tragic confluence of bad
luck, insecurity, pride and allowing money to color one’s natural
puts a microscope on these relationships and comes out with one of the most
devastating looks at modern America to come out of Hollywood. It is
beautifully filmed, smartly paced and subtly told, a master class in how to
tell a true story on film.
course, part of the films brilliance stems from a series of fantastic acting
jobs, particularly by the two leads.
officially apologize for calling Tatum the Keanu Reeves of the new
millennium in my review of Son of No One a few years ago. Since then
he has taken on some adventurous and very different roles and done a
terrific job with them, and his portrayal of Mark Schultz in this film is
his best so far.
film opens with Mark on the downslide, three years after winning his medal
his life is down to eating ramen noodles in a tiny apartment and
occasionally scoring a speaking gig at a school that usually has confused
him for his brother. His time in the spotlight is quickly slipping away and
Mark is bitter and desperate to hold on to a career that is for all intents
and purposes pretty much over.
Things change when Mark receives a call to meet up with multi-millionaire
John E. du Pont to discuss his dream of creating a compound on his estate to
train young wrestlers for Olympic glory. Mark is so out of the loop that he
has no clue who the man is, or even who his family was. However, he has
nothing to lose, so he takes the trip to the Philadelphia suburbs and is
seduced by the man’s obvious passion for the sport and the country. And
while it is obvious that du Pont’s knowledge of the sport is much more
rudimentary than he thinks, Mark sees him as an enthusiastic benefactor with
extremely deep pockets.
However, he doesn’t quite notice that du Pont is what some people would call
an “eccentric” millionaire – spoiled, aloof, needy, condescending and
occasionally prone to unexpected outbursts of anger.
Pont is played by comedian Steve Carell, though he is rendered nearly
unrecognizable by makeup and a prosthetic nose. He plays the millionaire as
a man uncomfortable in his own skin, trying desperately to fit in a world
that he simply is not part of. Du Pont’s sense of self has been pretty much
destroyed by his relationship with his icy mother (Vanessa Redgrave in a
devastating, if small, role) and his inability to gain her approval.
However, other than his mother, no one ever told du Pont no. He is
surrounded by yes men and sycophants and loves the attention. He is used to
using money to get what he wants – he ruefully tells a pathetic story of
finding out that his mother had to pay his only childhood friend – but now
it is simply second nature to him.
more settled, more talented older brother Dave is much more skeptical about
du Pont. However as du Pont’s relationship with Mark starts to crumble the
tycoon pressures Dave to join the team, eventually giving the man an offer
he can’t refuse. Mark Ruffalo, who is also mostly unrecognizable in makeup,
a full beard and with balding hair, has a much smaller role than the other
two, but he also acquits himself stellarly, then again Ruffalo is always a
good bet for a terrific performance.
While Miller plays a little fast and loose with the timeline of the story –
the actual murder took place nearly eight years after most of the action
shown in the story, though in the film it appears to be soon after – the
rest of the story is told pretty straight.
example, the film very subtly acknowledges the potential of a homoerotic
context in du Pont’s interest in Mark, which has been long considered a
potential contributor to the eventual explosion. However, nothing has ever
been proven to have happened, so the film goes to great pains to not
sensationalize this possibility.
Instead, Miller lets the story reveal itself incrementally, slowly building
a sense of dread that eventually becomes devastating. Foxcatcher is
sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying, but always a trenchant and smart
character study of a modern world off its treadle. Don’t be surprised to be
hearing a lot about this movie come Oscar time.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: November 28, 2014.