Bennett Miller’s newest film Foxcatcher is a sturm and drang of a production. Set in a time of limbo for Olympic hopefuls who are training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Foxcatcher tells the story of Mark and David Schultz, two brother wrestlers who won Gold Medals competing in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Mark, played by Channing Tatum, lives in a ramshackle of an apartment. The only family he has is his brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo. The film opens with Mark giving a speech to a very uninterested elementary school audience on the American Dream and the discipline and focus necessary to attain it—all for a hefty $20.00. Mark’s hope for another try at that Gold Medal, however, pushes away the effects of his depressing environs. He is alone. He lives alone. His brother David, by contrast, is happily married to Nancy, played by Sienna Miller, and they have two rambunctious fun-loving children. The death of their parents and the sport of wrestling bonded the two brothers. David raised Mark and trained him to wrestle. When the sinister millionaire (and he is sinister) John du Pont (Steve Carell) enters the picture, Miller’s film direction painstakingly constructs a deadly triangle that blindsides all parties involved.
The sturm and drang of Foxcatcher comes from the vision of the after glory of an athletic god who finds no solace in anything other than the Olympic coliseum. That Mark is reduced to accepting speaking engagements at $20 a pop is heartbreaking, and Miller mercilessly opens with this visual. His contrasts in du Pont, Mark, and David men are finely-tuned that when they constellate, you feel the ominous cloud hovering above them.
Once you wade through the grunts and grumbles of men in leotards wrestling on the mat, a story of the shortcomings of wealth emerges. We know the saying: money cannot buy you love. Well, screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman have crafted a narrative that places front and center John du Pont’s yearning for the brotherly love he witnesses between Mark and David. For all of his wealth and power; for all of the 1,000 acre du Pont estate in New Town Square Pennsylvania; and, for all of the fatherly demonstrations of love he accords to the ever needy wrestler Mark, John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family fortune, cannot break the unfaltering faith, loyalty, and love between Mark and David. Nor, can he have it. This is Foxcatcher’s arc, and Steve Carell’s portrayal of du Pont’s craving cuts like a knife.
Jeanne McCarthy’s casting of the wrestlers in Foxcatcher is sharp. Each actor simulates how the sport of wrestling has sculpted their bodies. Together, the wrestlers look like a bunch of eager lemurs as they listen to du Pont’s vapid speeches on wrestling. When they stand, hands droop as those of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and they bend as if ready to take on an opponent. Such is the effect the sport of wrestling has on the wrestler’s body. You will appreciate the lumbering gait Ruffalo, Tatum, and Carell have mastered.
Foxcatcher plays through January 29 at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.
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