Screened Out – Foxcatcher

By : Stephen Miller
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Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave

Though Foxcatcher has been in the theaters for a month, it recently grabbed five Oscar nominations. It’s worth seeing, if only for the exceptional performances.

The three actors at the center of this creepy wrestling tale are mesmerizing. Carell is almost unrecognizable as the privileged, eccentric John du Pont. Ruffalo displays his usual understated tenderness, and Tatum keeps uncovering the rough poetics of America’s less-than-genius lugs.

The movie is based on true events. Tatum portrays Mark Schultz, and Olympic gold medalist who foundered in the shadow of his older, more successful brother, Dave (Ruffalo). In the mid 1980s, when contacted by du Pont, Mark was wooed by all the family’s money and access. Mark started to live and train at their well-appointed estate, Foxcatcher Farm in Delaware.

In Foxcatcher, Mark’s older brother Dave is leery from the get-go, but, after a while, he finds himself also drawn into du Pont’s craziness. Soon they have a farm full of wrestlers training with the Schultz brothers. Cocaine parties and helicopter trips abound. The whole operation is being funded and watched over by egocentric du Pont, even though the rich man-child has no real knowledge of the sport

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo portray competitive, tender brothers.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo portray competitive, tender brothers.

There are strong signs of the violence and lunacy to come. The du Ponts made their fortune through gunpowder and turned out higher profits through selling other war supplies. John obviously felt overshadowed by his legendary dad, William. William ran one of the most successful horse breeding operations in history; his son John wanted to breed wrestlers, humans that grapple with each other in a fiercely intimate dance. (There’s a palpable undercurrent of homosexual tension here that never gets totally explored. The tight singlets and bare chests notwithstanding, this film tries very hard not to be gay.)

Carell’s performance shines. You can instantly see his entitled childhood and his lack of self-worth. Though his nasal voice spouts about finding new heroes for American youth, there is an immediate sense that he is mentally unstable.

The film isn’t without its flaws. The script by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye piles on the madness, starting about a third into the film. Anyone with a lick of sense would have fled du Pont soon after he starts talking to his absent mom (Redgrave) and waving a gun around. Certainly, there’s unintended comedy when John requests Mark calls him “Golden Eagle.” It perhaps helps that Tatum portrays Mark as more than a little stupid.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

The bigger problem is that – even though the story itself is fairly simple – director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) extends everything. The film has a gritty darkness, because, you see, it’s serious stuff. The dreary pace screams for an injection of energy. The film is 137 minutes long; though it’s hard to find fat in the script, there are plenty of drawn-out establishing shots and windless, deliberate scenes.

I hate this sort of Oscar-baiting sobriety when brevity would do. However, Miller’s approach seems to have worked; he got an Oscar nomination, too.

There’s no question, though, that the performances – especially Carell’s – deserve their recognition. As an actor’s showcase, Foxcatcher is a total takedown.

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