Much chatter arose when the first images of Steve Carell surfaced in his make-up laden face to help re-create the strange and gangly presence of the disgraced multi-millionaire, John E. du Pont. Then Foxcatcher premiered at Cannes, ending with what has been reported as a 20-minute standing ovation. Now, the film is in limited release, and there is one obvious question to be answered: is Foxcatcher worthy of all its early praise?
Based on a true story, Foxcatcher relives the tale of brothers Mark and David Schultz. As one half of the first sibling pair to win gold medals at the same Olympic Games, Mark Schultz’s life still didn’t have the dreamy afterglow that seemed to surround his brother. David wasn’t living in the lap of luxury, but he was happily married with children, with a steady job, and endorsement deals waiting in the wings. Conversely, Mark trudged through life in a small, dingy apartment, picking up the $25 apiece motivational lectures his busier brother couldn’t attend. Even as the two sparred in preparation for the upcoming World Games, David was obviously the better wrestler, and Mark just had to suck it up.
Then, out of the blue, Mark gets a phone call from John E. du Pont, the current heir to the du Pont chemical fortune. Mr. du Pont wants Mark to take up residence at his estate, known as Foxcatcher Farms, where he will help Mark train for the World Games as his coach. With the promise of his own path to glory right in front of him, Mark agrees, and unknowingly ends up taking him and his brother down a dark path to that ends badly for all parties.
This is a true story, so the final results of this tale should be of no surprise to anyone, especially with all the press the film garnered by simply being announced. Still, I’ll put this out there anyway for the weary viewers out there: (SPOILER ALERT!) The end result of this awkward trio is capped by a murder. See, I didn’t quite tell you exactly who gets the shit end of the stick, but it’s important to have a semblance of this idea out there to properly talk about this film. I’m no fool; I understand that “based on a true story” doesn’t mean that every single frame of the film is 100 percent accurate to the true-life events. Endings are made to reflect a happier outcome, some players in the tale never existed, and damn it, sometimes the whole thing is just made up.
No matter what changes are made, however, they are often made because as a film, we are not watching a biography, but a morality tale played out through past events, and I’m okay with that. However, when I dug further into the actual story of Foxcatcher, I started to feel a little cheated. Now, the film itself should inform my opinion, but some of the details that I uncovered would have been wonderful fixes for what I found to be a good film that just moved too damn slow.
Foxcatcher’s main players make for such a fascinating ordeal. John du Pont was a strange little fellow, calling him eccentric almost feels like an insult to the word itself. Self-proclaimed sports enthusiast or not, his interest in the Schultzs and wrestling as a whole is so odd that it almost begs to be molded into a movie plot. The tragic ending means nothing without a well fleshed out backstory, but as an audience member, the point is well made 45 minutes into the movie. Instead of moving along at a steady pace, Foxcatcher plods along on its belly, hammering home the same images into my head, over and over. This starts less than five minutes into the movie.
I get it: Mark is struggling to exist as his own man, and Dave is the better wrestler. In case I didn’t get that, I have to sit through 10 to 15 minutes of the brothers practicing together, up until the point Mark not so subtly exudes his suppressed anger in physical form. I also get it, John du Pont has mommy issues and only wants to have her recognize his own trumped up accomplishments by using the brothers as his pawns, in more ways than one; but the single brilliantly uncomfortable scene where she shows up to a training session blows the rest of the film out of the water.
When I searched for more facts about the story, I found out that there was a two-day standoff at Foxcatcher Farms with the police, which played out like a hostage situation, only with no hostages. On-site interviews with other wrestlers and other athletes (yes, du Pont housed athletes from other sports at his compound as well) revealed that in the weeks leading up to the shocking murder that du Pont appeared off his rocker, talking to walls to begin with. A good 30 minutes could have been sliced right out of the slow burn lead-up, and spent on yet another fascinating point of the story, making for a better-paced affair.
Slow can be good, but for Foxcatcher, it’s a disability. Simply put, this is the film’s only real problem, but it’s a glaring one. The film does explore the emotions of broken children and how they attempt to patch together their lives, but it gets a little lost in its need to play too heavily on the story aspects.
The cast is perfect, even if there seems to be more laughs than shudders at Steve Carell’s possessed portrayal of the damaged and distant du Pont. Though there is still a lot that goes hand-and-hand with the make-up, there is plenty that comes through from the man himself. Channing Tatum pulls across the wounded deer persona through the punishing stature of a monster, as well. Really though, Mark Ruffalo takes the cake with his hovering arms and sheltered stares of concern as the older, wiser, yet susceptible older brother. The film is carried directly by these three men, and they really sell the awkwardness of it all, so kudos to them.
Maybe my mind is clouded by the hype. You’re probably saying that I’m letting my views on the post-screening fact-hunt sway my opinions, but I say it’s impossible. Every second that passed as I watched Foxcatcher filled my head with one single notion; this really interesting film would be so much better if it would just move the hell along.
***This article was first published on October 15, 2014.