Review: Foxcatcher

 

I saw Foxcatcher in mid-December. The movie surprised me. I had read about the strange real-life incident that puzzled the world. The key figure in the tragedy didn't explain himself at the time and has since passed away. So I knew that if the filmmakers were honest, there would be no answers in the movie. What surprised me was how engrossing the story without revelations turned out to be. My essay on the film was already written in my head. Then, just last week, the only central individual in the situation who is still alive went online and trashed the director of the film for misrepresenting him. And with that, Foxcatcher became even more interesting.

In the late '80s, Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited to meet with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) at the sprawling estate he calls home. Turns out the pale, out of shape man is a wrestling enthusiast interested in starting a training facility.

He wants Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who also won Olympic gold, to move in with him. Dave declines. He's quite happy living a wonderful life in Colorado with his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids. But Mark agrees to the proposal and becomes part of du Pont's weird world. Du Pont is a fiercely intense fellow with an odd presentation style. He has issues with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who considers wrestling a "low" sport and disapproves of his aspirations.

The relationship between du Pont and Mark is curious. The dour wrestler seems like a lost boy in need of a mentor or father figure. Du Pont appears determined to take on that role, but a scene where he pops up at Mark's bedroom in the middle of the night makes it clear he knows nothing about boundaries. It also suggests something sexual, if only on du Pont's part.

Over time, things take an ugly turn, as du Pont grows displeased with Mark and starts verbally abusing him. He slaps him in the face as well — shocking. Brother Dave eventually gets drawn into the wrestling program. Tensions build, and I'll leave it at that.

As I said, no answers for what happened were provided in real life and filmmaker Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) doesn't create any. But the movie remains fascinating because of the fine performances of the three key characters and the mystery of what is happening in du Pont's head.

Then the real Mark Schultz went online last week and attacked. He took particular issue with the scene where du Pont visited him in the middle of the night. It never happened, he said, and he asked Miller to cut it because it implied something sexual was going on when, in fact, there wasn't. Miller refused, saying he needed the scene to show du Pont's increasingly invasive encroachment on Mark's privacy and personal space.

His initial complaints were clearly expressed, but he kept posting, threatening to ruin Miller's career and ranting, "Everything I've ever said positive about the movie I take back. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it. I hate it." I wonder if Mark realizes how tweets like that make him sound less like an aggrieved adult and more like the lost boy depicted in Foxcatcher?

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Ed Johnson-Ott has been NUVO's lead film critic for more than 20 years.