First Hit: Well-acted with a long slow buildup to a disconnected ending by a disconnected person.
John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) lives deeply in the shadow of his mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), his family, and the family name.
Having never had to work at doing anything for survival he longs to be connected to something, something that gives him a sense of being a man. He thinks himself a patriot and significant contributor to society. The reality is different – it is the name that is famous.
The question I kept asking myself throughout the film was, was he simply a grossly odd individual, or did he have full mental capacity? When you watch some scenes he comes across as either one or the other - but you don’t really know. I think that is part of the point of the film, not knowing.
What does stand out is that he is completely shielded by money – his family money – nothing he actually earned. He gloms onto the wrestling Schultz brothers who both won Olympic Gold medals in the 1984 games. He does this because he sees an opportunity to finance this sport and these guys to additional greatness as well as his own notoriety. He wants to be seen.
Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and younger brother Mark (Tatum Channing) are close brothers and great wrestlers. Mark is plodding, not socially adept, but learns wrestling well from his brother and therefore only moderately succeeds. Dave is a brilliant wrestling strategist and coach. Although Mark cannot convince Dave to join duPont’s Foxcatcher team, he decides to live and practice at the Foxcatcher wrestling facility, at du Pont’s home, in Pennsylvania.
du Pont thinks he has become a coach, motivator and mentor of young Mark but in reality he knows nothing about the sport and just supplies the money. The convincingly twisted relationship he builds with Mark is meant to break the bond between the brothers. Mark’s wrestling goes south because of du Pont’s influence (drugs and arrogance) and when the writing was on the wall for the Foxcatcher team, du Pont convinces Dave to come coach the team.
One of the most telling scenes, is when Jean comes to the wrestling facility and John decides to pretend to be the coach. It is a moment where he really begins to see his failings as a human being. The shots of du Pont’s land and the wrestling are effective.
Carell is an oddly disturbing du Pont. I know nothing of the real person so I can only wonder, could the du Pont Carell created by Carell do the deeds as shown? Yes, Carell made the brooding, icy stares and halting rambling speeches convincing. Ruffalo was really good as the smart, very engaged coach and brother to Mark. Channing was good to great. I found it hard for me to believe he survived on his limited social skills, but as a wrestler I thought he was great. Redgrave was perfect as the mother who told her son, “wrestling is a low sport…”. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman wrote the script that had some interesting lines and others that were funny but maybe not meant to be funny. Bennett Miller directed this film. Some of the shots of the wrestling and land around Foxcatcher were fantastic, however the story plodded.
Overall: Despite its failings as a film and it being too long in telling the story, I was intrigued to learn more about this event where a rich man kills a wrestling coach.