The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances. (IMDB)
Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Run time/Rating: 129 Minutes/ R
Popcorn Score: Medium Popcorn with Butter
This movie has all of the aspects that intrigue me as a film viewer; an esteemed witer and director, talented actors playing challenging parts, an intriguing sports story based on true events, and murder! The only catch is, I had no idea it was about murder. Yes, I had the blissful ignorance of going into my screening of Foxcatcher without knowing any of the historical events that occurred in the 1980’s-90’s. That surprises me since I was actually a young boy very into wrestling (not only WWF/WCW but also real Olympic wrestling) when these events were happening. A fun thing about going into a biopic without knowing the factual events is you can attempt to imagine it as an original screenplay. The problem is, as the real life we all face day in and day out is so unbelievable, it does not take long for you as a viewer of whatever unfolding story to realize that there is no one on the planet who could ever imagine up something so precise, bizarre and realistic as what you are watching. That is more than likely the reason why 3 out of the last 4 Academy Award winning Best Pictures and many before it (and one more possibly in 2015 in “A Theory of Everything”, “Selma” “The Interrogation Game” “American Sniper” ) have been based on actual events. The imagination, usually, cannot provide as an elaborate and engaging story as the lives we live. Then all it takes is a talented screenwriter to connect the dots and add a little “Hollywood” to it.
With Foxcatcher, I have done a lot of research after seeing the movie and I understand that as usual there are some embellishments and or areas of flexibility. One I noticed specifically has to do with the timeline of the movie, another which is quite public after the stories lead character Mark Shultz – in real life – blasted the film for indicating a possible sexual charge between himself and his Foxcatcher Coach, John du Pont.
None of these adjustments took anything away from telling the honest and unbelievable story. The story of Dave and Mark Shultz, the first ever brothers to win Olympic Gold Medals at the same games, and how their drive to be the best brought them together, drove them apart, and ultimately left one dead.
The story picks up shortly after the 1984 games when the gold winning brothers are training for the world competitions in 86. They are training together in a high school gym after David is done coaching. Mark the younger and duller of the two brothers has a focused attitude about wrestling but lacks the personal and social skills that Dave has. He fills in for his polished older brother at Jr. High schools speaking gigs when Dave isn’t able to make them for $50 a pop. He eats fast food and Ramon in his depressing apartment with nothing but himself and an impressive trophy wall. One night he receives a strange call which invites him to come and visit the “Foxcatcher” Estate of John du Pont, a billionaire who is interested in financing Mark to put together a team and train the best wrestlers in the US. Mark is not immediately impressed by John, a middle aged man with an odd personality, a disheveled look and despite billions of dollars to his name a false sense of entitlement, but he is being presented with an offer too good to pass up. Mr. du Pont also asks Mark that he convince his brother Dave, who is more fit for the role of a leader, to come along as well. Dave is not in such dire circumstances as his younger brother, having a job and family and decides that it is not for him but skeptically gives his brother his blessing.
It is no time before Marc is on the Foxcatcher Farms with a team of the best wrestlers in the county training for the championships and the upcoming Olympics. As time goes on, John du Ponte’s presence at the practices becomes more prominent. It becomes obvious that John’s objectives are not only to sponsor the great wrestlers but also control, manipulate and develop a domineering relationship over Marc. John forces Marc to introduce him as his mentor, his coach, a father figure, breaking Marc down step by step all while driving a wedge between Marc and his ever distant growing brother. It is not until, alcohol, cocaine enter the equation that the true physiological dominance begins.
John soon breaks down Mark proving to them both that Marc is not fit to be “Capatin” and John finally names Dave’s price to come and coach the team. This goes on for years, even much after Marc is forced to leave the farm. John du Pont growing ever so sheltered surrounded by his “yes men” and his own general craziness shot Dave Shultz dead in the driveway of his guesthouse on Foxcatcher Farms in January 26 of 1996.
Every scene in the movie leading up to the deadly end is sad. The whole movie is dark and tired. Long still shots establish the lonely tone and are all decorated by cloudy, rainy skies. There is no music except a lone piano plucking notes from time to time. It is a sad movie done correctly without the padded impact of heavy underscores. The performances are solid. Most notably by Ruffalo who plays to perfection the last character you would ever want to see die in the history of films. He is soft and kind and the real father figure to his young brother Marc all while being a dedicated husband, father and wrestling coach to Americas best. Channing Tatum also played the part well although I saw slips from time to time reminding me that this might have been too heavyweight a part for him. That leads to Steve Correll. I like him as an actor both comedic and dramatic and I thought that he played this part filled with layers and depth in brilliantly disgusting fashion. He is deserving of awards for doing something so different than what people know him as.
I don’t know what my expectations going into this movie were. Not knowing the facts of the events I thought it might just be a “Sports Movie”. It is much more than that. I was not disappointed but I was not blown away either. I was looking for something bigger, better, more impactful. Although true stories are more than often the most amazing, I think Foxcatcher will go down as a very good historic sports movie but there are more amazing stories to be told.
Medium Popcorn with Butter.