Movie Review - Foxcatcher

Channing Tatum stars as Mark Schultz, a real-life, Olympic wrestler who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman and directed by Bennett Miller, this movie follows Mark as he trains for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, as well as some incidents after.

Steve Carell co-stars as John E. du Pont, a wealthy man who invites Mark to train for the Olympics at his estate in Pennsylvania, known as Foxcatcher Farms, near Valley Forge, which holds significance to both John and Mark as the hold for George Washington. The estate contains several homes, including stables for horses. Foxcatcher Farms was originally established for horse racing. John converts a lot and even builds a wrestling gym.

Mark Ruffalo also co-stars as Dave Schultz, the older brother of Mark. Dave also won the gold medal in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, but it's clear that Dave is more famous and more successful than Mark. Dave is also clearly the better wrestler by far, and Mark is quietly jealous.

At the opening of the film, it's 1987. Mark is 27. He's poor. He's lonely. Aside from training, he spends all his free time alone in his shabby apartment. When Mark gets the call to go to Foxcatcher, he's eager for the opportunity, but there's a push-pull feeling for him. He wants his brother to come with him but he also wants to do this alone and get out his brother's shadow.

Both John and Mark set the goal of winning a gold medal in Seoul, but Mark expresses anxiety of not wanting to disappoint John, almost in a way that feels like a son not wanting to disappoint his father, and that ostensibly is their relationship. Yet, things change. John and Mark's relationship changes to a friendly or brotherly relationship. It changes again to one where Mark is apparently comfortable being practically naked and lying at John's feet almost like a puppy dog.

In between, there's a scene that implies that John and Mark might have had sex. The homoerotic undertones are there. It's subtext and Miller seems content to leave it as that. Hinting at a quasi-homosexual pull for John serves the later purpose of possibly explaining John's eventual crime. When Dave arrives at Foxcatcher to live, it gets to a point where Mark has to leave. Once he does, John winds up shooting and killing Dave. The reason or motive is unknown, but Miller's picture would seem to suggest either scorned father or jilted lover, which in itself is somewhat offensive.

Having a crime be explained as being because he was secretly gay and couldn't handle it is hackneyed in films and television. Implying it here unless there is incontrovertible evidence to support it is also hackneyed and offensive, as it needlessly attributes negative behavior to homosexuality as if the two are directly connected.

On another point, I always find it funny when, in movies, you have the scene where someone says something to the effect "I'm not doing something no matter what" and then the film cuts to the next scene where that person is doing the exact thing they just said they're not doing. It's a funny joke occasionally. It often underscores the common idea that people often say things, which they don't mean, or, simply that people can be easily persuaded, if given certain conditions, but the film has to make that point clear. When it's just used as an easy joke, it's lazy and annoying.

A similar thing happens here when it was made clear that Dave did not want to go to Foxcatcher Farms, even when Mark said the money is good and Dave's family can come and all this and that, but Dave still says no. Then, the film cuts to Dave moving to Foxcatcher, and there's no real explanation of why or what exactly John did. That was a leap to me that I don't feel was earned.

Then Dave is shot dead and the film just cuts to Mark prepping for a mixed martial arts fight or something and we don't get any kind of reaction or gauge of his thoughts and feelings about what just happened in the scene prior and that's how the movie ends. That was an unearned leap as well. The relationship between the two brothers seems like a big deal but then the ending just shrugs it off basically.

The film has good performances, particularly form Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, but it's not as cohesive as I would have liked with the portrayal of those characters. Plus, there's so much about John E. du Pont that I felt was lacking. For example, he had a wife whom he divorced and his ex-wife complained of him brandishing a gun, a relevant fact in his life. Yet, Miller doesn't put that in this movie and ultimately Carell's performance felt like a caricature than a fleshed-out person.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 14 mins.


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