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Painful lessons in Foxcatcher

lars logoYEP YEP – Foxcatcher creeps along…slowly…foreshadowing doom at every turn, fueled by a mesmerizing performance from usual funny man Steve Carell

Director Bennett Miller has given us three exceptional films: Capote, Moneyball, and now Foxcatcher.

All three based on true stories.

We see early in the picture that not only does Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz live in his big brother Dave’s shadow, he is lost in it.

“Everything I have ever done,” he says. “Has somehow been credited to Dave. It’s time for me to distance myself from him. Become my own person.”

foxcatcherAlong comes eccentric multi-millionaire John E. du Pont (Carell), heir to the du Pont family chemical fortune, who not only takes a liking to Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), but becomes obsessed with the notion he can move the wrestling Schultz brothers to his Pennsylvania estate and oversee them as they coach a team to a gold medal in the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul, Korea. All for his love of country.

Or so he said.

But, as du Pont’s mother, a celebrated and avid equestrian (played by Vanessa Redgrave), tells him in one of the few exchanges she has with her son in the film, “Wrestling is a low sport.”

Ouch.

What a universal desire…to gain the approval of your parents.

How painful when it is withheld. Or simply impossible to achieve.

Du Pont tried bird watching. He even wrote a book about it – Northeastern Birds – but that didn’t impress her.

He was a philatelist. Never heard of that – so I looked it up.  Apparently, a philatelist is someone who is an expert in stamps. In 1980, du Pont paid the highest amount ever for a single stamp, $935,000 for a British Guiana 1c magenta. Crazy amount, no? Well, that same stamp just sold this past June at Sotheby’s auction house for $9,480,000.

So…

“Horses are stupid,” du Pont tells his Team Foxcatcher after a big victory. “They eat and shit. That’s all they do.”

It’s the awkwardly quiet scenes in Foxcatcher that make Miller’s film so unique – and memorable. Like when the camera finds du Pont sitting on his front porch, staring out over his estate, Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land playing, melancholy, as Schultz approaches…”You’re a good friend, Mark.”

Much like Capote, two very sad, lonely men. Colliding.

It can only end badly.

Late in the film, du Pont brings his ailing mother a trophy he has “won” in an over-50 competition. She looks at it, unimpressed…”Who funded this?”

Foxcatcher repeatedly punches you square in the gut.

Miller does not just make exceptional bio pics, he compassionately examines his subjects on a deep, psychological level that leaves the viewer not simply knowing the story, but understanding the depth of the lives caught up in fascinating – tragic – circumstances.

Watching Ruffalo (Dave Schultz) and Tatum warm up to spar in the beginning of the film is fascinating. So impressive to see actors who have not only done their homework, but have physically committed themselves to the work required to go beyond merely making their roles “believable.” In this case, we have to be “believe” that these two actors are displaying gold medal caliber wrestling maneuvers. Mission accomplished – I bought it. Both Ruffalo and Tatum are excellent here. Ruffalo almost sure to be nominated for an Oscar.

As will Carell. A career-changing performance.

Foxcatcher is an alienating film. I’m guessing that was by design.

My middle son called it “the most subtle film”he’s ever seen.

High praise in my book.

 

One thought on “Painful lessons in Foxcatcher

  1. Pingback: Best Films of 2014 | Lars Beckerman

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