Movie Review #919
|Released in Los Angeles, California and New York City, New York on November 14, 2014. Biography/Drama/Sport. Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence. Runs 134 mins. Director: Bennett Miller. Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman. Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, and Brett Rice.|
A TOUR DE FORCE FOR BOTH CAST AND DIRECTOR.
By Alexander Diminiano
If you live in Pennsylvania and you are unfamiliar with the name “du Pont,” then shame on you. It’s as great a sin as living in Florence and having not the faintest idea what a Medici is. Yes, there was William Penn, but if you want something beyond what a history textbook might throw at you on a rudimentary level, then I’ll tell you right now that William Penn did not build PA. Maybe he did to some extent, but it was really the du Pont family who made the state just what it is, at least from my understading. This family is one of America’s answers to Florence’s much older Medici family. They were–and still are–an extremely wealthy and generous family, responsible for the creation of schools, hospitals, institutions, offices, apartments, and houses–and more.
I should rephrase. The du Pont family is an extremely wealthy and generous family, for the most part. “Foxcatcher” picks up with the honest recognition that no family, and nobody, is truly perfect. Certainly not John E. du Pont. As soon as we see him appear in “Foxcatcher”, we can tell there’s something about him that just isn’t right. John du Pont is an ambitious man, but he’s not exactly the most likable. Not until the third act of the film does the character begin to really twitch in the wrong direction, but there’s something extremely unsavory, if completely unobvious, about him throughout the entire movie.
John du Pont is a fascinating protagonist/antagonist. We’re given glimpses that suggest his insanity through an homage to Hitchcock’s Norman Bates. John requires his mother’s approval of his choices. He’s given up the career she had dreamt he would pursue (horseracing) and has instead chosen to pursue his own dream (Olympic wrestling). He puts himself to the standards that will make his mother happy with his choice, rather than finding enjoyment in his passion himself. But one of a few deciding tragedies in “Foxcatcher” is that John doesn’t understand that regardless of how hard he tries to appease his mother, she’ll always remain disappointed in her son.
Steve Carell is amazing in this role. His disappearance into John du Point is creepy, subtle, and unlike any other role he’s ever played. Honest to god, you won’t be able to tell it’s him. Between the prosthetic nose, teeth, and eyebrows (the role required that Carell arrive to the set three hours early each time filming took place, solely for makeup purposes), and the troubled voice and awkward mannerisms that Carell embellishes, he’s entirely unrecognizable as someone who, in any other movie, would be making us laugh.
The name “Foxcatcher” donates so much symbolism to the tale. Its undeniably the best of many, many titles for this intense psychological drama. Foxcatcher is also the name of the arena where John trains his wrestlers. The trainee that serves as the film’s primary focus is Mark Schultz (a yet-again impressive Channing Tatum). He and his brother are both gold medalists, but his brother’s the one who seems to gain all the recognition. Up until his invitation to Foxcatcher, Mark his been his brother’s own trainee. Mark looks at his training with du Pont as a chance to become something more than a wrestler’s younger brother.
Later in the movie, however, Mark’s brother is invited to Foxcatcher. This is Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Some might recognize the name instantly as the man whom John du Pont murdered during the mid-1990’s. Dave’s invitation to train at Foxcatcher is the turning point in the film. It’s Mark’s breaking point, when he realizes that he may never become what his brother is. It’s also when we start to become sure that John du Pont might not just be a little unsavory. There’s a lot here that says he’s insane, even before the murder. Director Bennett Miller adds a great element of shock value to the climactic scene. He conducts the severe subtlety of John’s character and instability in such a way that even the film’s clichés (for one, slo-mo with audio muted to piano music during tragic scenes) can effectively disturb.
“Foxcatcher” is no walk in the park. This is a dark, heavy movie, and Bennett Miller makes it that way by doing what he usually does: he doesn’t thrive on excess. He drives us into the mind of John du Pont, a man whose own sport is used to stand for his violent desires. Sometimes, the lack of depicted violence can make this movie feel violent, even if only in its atmosphere. Miller has directed three fiction films thus far, all biopics. And I most certainly see no question as to whether his next film should be a biopic, as well.