Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER. Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Vanessa Redgrave. Directed by Bennett Miller. Rated M (Drug use and violence). 134 min.

This is an American biographical crime drama about two Olympic wrestling brothers, and a millionaire who murdered one of them.The film is based on true events, and won Best Director for Bennett Miller at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

"Foxcatcher Farms" was a property in Pennsylvania owned by John Eleuthere du Pont (Steve Carrell). Du Pont was a millionaire, whose family earned its money from an industrial chemical business. Obsessed with wrestling, he turned part of his estate into a training facility, dedicated to helping Olympic hopefuls excel in the sport.

Brothers, David Schultz (Mark Buffalo) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) were the first siblings in US history to win Olympic Gold Medals in wrestling in the same year (1984). Mark began training on Foxcatcher Farms for the World Championships and the next Olympics, when his brother, David accepted du Pont's persistent invitation to coach the wrestling "team" that he had gathered there for future glory. Tragically, David was murdered by du Pont in 1996. Du Pont died in 2010, serving time for his crime.

This is a bleak, haunting film that tells a dark, fascinating story of the relationship of du Pont to the two brothers. Mark lived with low self-esteem "in the shadow" of his brother. He wanted the respect David elicited naturally as a person others admired; he was jealous of the happiness that David found in his family; and in his loneliness, he grew to depend on du Pont as a father figure he never had. Du Pont was also lonely, drawing his security from power associated with social class and great wealth, a neurotic attachment to a controlling mother, and the repressive forces that lay behind a volatile and falsely gregarious personality. The film captures brilliantly the impact of desire, loneliness and rejection that can lead to violence.

Steve Carrell (from the TV series, "The Office") is virtually unrecognisable as du Pont, whose paranoia fuelled his crime. Madness at the thought of being rejected erupted in du Pont after David threatened to leave his employ, demanding support for his unstable brother. Du Pont tried to seduce and control Mark, plying him with drugs and alcohol that created a lifestyle which effectively wrecked his wrestling career. Consequently, Mark failed in his 1988 Olympic bid, and the three men became a trio headed for tragedy.

The scripting of the movie is sparse and lean, and the film moves slowly and surely to its climax. With attention focused on John, David and Mark, the movie contrasts power and wealth, represented by du Pont, with working class life and longings, represented by the two brothers. The movie provides outstanding ensemble acting performances which include a subtle performance from Vanessa Redgrave as John's disapproving mother, who constantly reminded her son that wrestling is "low". Quality acting from all of the players compellingly reinforces the film's aura of dread, and it has an excellent musical score.

Bennett Miller, the Director of the film, gives events a curiously unsensational look, despite the madness of du Pont. As a result, the movie veers away from the genre of classic horror film-making. Rather, it builds up its tension by journeying along a complex, psychological path. For both brothers, there are warning signs in du Pont's behaviour, but because of their bonding to each other and passionate commitment to the sport of wrestling, they decide for different reasons to pursue an association with a highly disturbed person.

This is a movie that is a step away from targeting American disillusionment by weaving events around the competitive sport of wrestling, and using wrestling as a metaphor for the expression of anger and frustration at the failure of "The American Dream". It evokes great sadness by showing human beings pursuing happiness in desperate and misguided ways.

The film is directed and acted expertly, and will unsettle some viewers. Impending tragedy looms right from the beginning of this movie, and only at the end of the film does the viewer know where actually it comes from and where it Is going. This is too cold a movie to like intensely, but its coldness is totally absorbing and the film deserves to be much admired.

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Roadshow Films

Released January 29th., 2015


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