“Foxcatcher”

“The film “Foxcatcher” begins with the message: “The following is based on a true story.” The message pertains to the tragic murder of Dave Schultz, but more on that later. Immediately after the message, the screen reverts to archival footage. On a large expanse of land, which is part of Foxcatcher Farm, there are people sitting on horseback. They are attired in equestrian garb. A group of dogs waits nearby them. Although hard to tell from the footage, it seems as if the energy of both canine and human is palpable. A single fox is set free upon the open field. The fox races with as much speed as its small body can muster. On the precipice of the fox escaping capture, the footage ends. The footage featured is that of the billionaire, du Pont family. The du Pont’s originally made their fortune from producing explosive powders and textiles, before branching off into chemicals, and other ventures.    

When the film begins again, in the present, three years have passed since the 1984 Summer Olympics that were held in Los Angeles, California. Mark Schultz played by Channing Tatum (The Lost City), won a gold medal for wrestling at the 84 Olympics. He wasn’t the only Schultz to take home gold at the 84 Olympics. His brother Dave, portrayed by Emmy and Golden Globe winner Mark Ruffalo (I Know This Much Is True), also won. For the most part, Mark is a surly individual, who lives a solitary life. He is haunted by demons from his past, and is capable, as the viewer will see, of making self-destructive choices. Dave, however, who grew up dealing with the same childhood trauma as Mark did, (which is only discussed briefly between the brothers), has been able to manage his life better. Dave trains wrestlers for serious competitions. He comes across as calm, has a pleasant disposition, and is a seemingly happily married man to his wife Nancy, a role acted by two time BAFTA nominee Sienna Miller (The Girl).  The couple have two children, Alexander (Jackson Frazer), and Danielle (Samara Lee). 

Mark receives a phone call from John du Pont. The part of du Pont is acted by Golden Globe winner, and Oscar nominee Steve Carell (The Office). Carell plays the real life character with excellent nuance. One moment, du Pont comes across as inviting, the next ingratiating, other times withdrawn and morose. Even though he states his intentions upfront, from the outset, they’re suspect. There always seems to be more going on than du Pont is letting on. He has a team of ‘yes men,’ such as Jack (Anthony Michael Hall), and Henry Beck (Guy Boyd), to protect his interests, and see that he gets what he wants. The only person, who doesn’t appear to be fooled by du Pont, is his mother Jean  (Vanessa Redgrave). She is an avid equestrian lover, and considers wrestling to be a low sport. Although never stated, the film alludes to the fact that du Pont desperately sought his mother’s validation. He wanted to be viewed in her eyes, as a leader of men, but the film suggests, that Jean du Pont, never gave John the satisfaction he sought from her.  

John invites Mark out to Foxcatcher, but his invitation extends beyond his admiration for the way Mark wrestles. Once there, he asks Mark to name his price. He wants the gold medal winner to come work and live at Foxcatcher, in order to train  wrestlers that will be competing in the 1988 Summer Olympic games in Seoul, South Korea. The vision du Pont lays out for Mark is that, unlike the Soviets, America’s Olympic athletes aren’t paid to perform, which du Pont feels gives other countries, like the then Soviet Union, an unfair advantage. Declaring that he is undertaking this mission from a sense of patriotic duty to America, he wants to give America’s Olympic wrestlers an edge over their counterparts from Russia. John du Pont wants to house the wrestlers in comfort. He has already built them a state of the art training facility, where he expects them to spend countless hours in rigorous practice. In addition, du Pont will provide each wrestler with money to pay their bills.  He doesn’t want them to have to worry about getting jobs. All du Pont desires for his wrestlers to do is concentrate on practice, and ultimately winning. Mark eagerly accepts du Pont’s offer, and is anxious to get started.   

Mark makes Dave, per du Pont’s instructions, the same offer, but Dave declines. He says that his family is happy where they are at the moment, and not looking to move. Eventually, however, du Pont will offer Dave an amount of money, which for the betterment of his family, he can’t turn down. Dave relocates to Foxcatcher, something that does not sit well, at all, with Mark. From the outset, it is clear that Mark is extraordinarily upset that his older brother is now the head coach of the wrestling team, and seemingly du Pont’s new favorite person at Foxcatcher. Once the team travels to Seoul for the Olympics, things begin to rapidly deteriorate, and will set Mark, Dave, and du Pont on a course, that will forever alter their lives.  

“Foxcatcher” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19, 2014. The film was directed by two time Oscar nominee Bennett Miller (Capote). The screenplay was written by two time Emmy and Oscar nominee E. Max Frye (Band of Brothers), and two time Oscar nominee Dan Futterman (Capote).  Parts biography, drama, history, and sport, the film has an approximate runtime of 134 minutes.

Trivia buffs take note: Tatum and Ruffalo spent six months of training in order to prepare for their roles as wrestlers. At the request of Bennett Miller, Steve Carell was not permitted to make jokes while filming, and was told to not socialize with his co-stars after work. Carell spent many hours watching video tapes of John du Pont, and reading everything he could about the man, in order to prepare. Mark Ruffalo had to gain thirty pounds in order to play Dave Schultz. The real life Dave Schultz was enamored with the way the Soviet athletes wrestled, to the point where he learned Russian, in order to understand the instructions their coaches were giving them during their matches. Mark Schultz’s book “Foxcatcher: The True Story of my Brother’s murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold, which he co-authored with David Thomas, was used as a basis for the movie. The book was published on November 18, 2014 by Dutton.

    

                                              

“Foxcatcher” is an unsettling film, which, as mentioned at the start of the post, will eventually conclude with the tragic murder of Dave Schultz. Carrell, Tatum, and Ruffalo give very commendable performances. The cinematography by Oscar winner Greig Fraser (Dune: Part One) does an excellent job of capturing the overriding sense of dread that is present most of the time during the film. Overall, not the sort of movie you would want to watch if you’re having a down day.  Nonetheless, the film should appeal to those of you who are fans of the cast, as well as those of you, who appreciate top tier drama.

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About robbinsrealm

I was born in Smithtown, New York, and grew up, worked, and lived in various areas of Long Island before moving to Boca Raton, Florida where I now make my home. In addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an English teacher. I have a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master’s Degree in Education, both from Adelphi University in Garden City, New York. In my spare time you will find me engrossed in books, watching movies, socializing with friends, or just staying active.
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2 Responses to “Foxcatcher”

  1. terrepruitt says:

    I found the trivia intriguing enough to make me want to watch the film.

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