“How much does he want?”
“You can’t buy Dave.”
Upon hearing these words, John du Pont stares into the distance with a confused look on his face, unsure of what exactly he just heard. At the moment, he’s attempting to get Mark Schultz’s brother–Dave–to join them at Foxcatcher Farms, to get Dave to contribute to a possible gold medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. He eventually does, but this scene strikes at the foundation of John du Pont: the undercurrent of entitlement masquerading as patriotism and mentorship, the fact that du Pont’s treasure trove of wealth has led him to believe that he can buy and collect whatever he pleases.
After all, we see that du Pont collects birds, trophies, weapons, and military vehicles, and he can certainly call the shots with those because, well, he just needs money there. If he doesn’t get the huge machine gun, then by god, he will wait until you plop that damn thing on his desk! However, when he attempts to apply the same approach to real live people, to the Olympic medals won by those people, he ends up failing miserably. This is fundamentally a tale of a lonely man with something to prove to his mother, a rich man who rambles on and on about America as he continues to stand detached from most of society, and Steve Carell is very good–not quite as good as he was hyped up to be–at portraying him. Interestingly enough, it might be Carell’s years as Michael Scott that helped the most with this performance, as there are certain beats hit here that need some sort of comedic sensibility. For example, the scene in which du Pont attempts to impress his mother by teaching simple wrestling moves is pathetically sad, and Carrell’s knack for “inept boss” helps him out there.
Elsewhere, Channing Tatum brings vulnerability to the physicality of the role, and this is perhaps the perfect role for him in that regard. Mark Schultz is “living in his brother’s shadow”–it makes sense that he’d be attracted to someone who has experience living in someone else’s shadow–and his situation is encapsulated by the opening scenes of the movie: his patriotic speech at the beginning is followed up by him eating Big Macs and ramen noodles alone. Hungry for validation and respect and triumph, he jumps at the opportunity to train for the Olympics, and the stage is set for the film.
The real star of Foxcatcher, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who is absolutely perfect as Dave Schultz throughout. He brings a humanity to the character that stands in stark contrast to the cold and distant surroundings, and the film is at its most effective when it focuses on the strain between him and his brother; an early scene in which Dave and Mark wrestle, culminating in the latter drawing blood by elbowing the former in the face, is an indication of the dynamic we will see explored throughout the remainder of the movie. The film is at its least effective, however, when it ventures elsewhere, as Miller seems intent on exploring du Pont as a symbol rather than as a character. It’s an understandable choice to utilize minimal exposition in a film like this, but at the same time, it’s also a major flaw. We never know when John du Pont will snap and stab someone with his nose, but more importantly–and more disappointingly–we also never know who he is.
-Sienna Miller doesn’t have much to do, but she’s pretty endearing as Dave Schultz’s wife.
-Does Steve Carrell get a nomination? We’ll see. This movie had an enormous amount of buzz early on, but now, everything else is rolling in. If I could only pick one person to nominate from this, it would be Mark Ruffalo.
-I definitely could’ve talked about the murder–du Pont shoots Dave–in the main review, considering it was a real life event, but whatever. I need something to talk about here, anyway. I like that the movie is less concerned with explaining why this happens than with showing us that it did happen, which is something that can be applied to life in general: some things just happen, and however tragic they may be, we can’t stop them.
-My favorite scene of the movie: Dave being interviewed for the documentary and struggling to find words to say about du Pont. Wonderful performance by Ruffalo there.
-The “ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist” exchange is really well done by Carell and Tatum.
-Wait, you can lose that many pounds in, what, an hour?
– “Most of my friends call me Eagle, or Golden Eagle.”
Photo credit: Foxcatcher, Annapurna Pictures