Save for an Oscar-worthy performance by Channing Tatum, “Foxcatcher” is hugely disappointing. Directed by Bennett Miller and written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, “Foxcatcher” is based on the true story of John du Pont, of the du Pont family, and his obsession with coaching a world-class wrestling team.
Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum) Schultz are brothers who won gold medals in wrestling in the 1984 Olympics. Dave, married with children, is the older brother who retires to coaching after the Olympics, while Mark still has hopes of making the ’88 Olympic team. Mark lives very lonely, solitary, meager existence and there seems to be something slightly off…something naïve… about him. Out of the blue Mark gets a phone call from one of John du Pont’s assistants inviting him to du Pont’s Pennsylvania Foxcatcher estate for a meeting. Curious, Mark flies out to meet du Pont (Steve Carell), who tells Mark of his plans to sponsor and coach a wrestling team—one whose participants will make it to the ’88 Olympics. He wants Mark to join and help with the training. Mark has no better offers so he accepts. Right off the bat du Pont starts to plant seeds of doubt about Mark’s relationship with his brother, telling him that it’s time to step out of Dave’s shadow. Increasingly Mark warms up to du Pont and seems to feel real affection for him. Du Pont seemingly takes Mark under his wing, and among other things, introduces him to cocaine. Mark is very much the introvert and the coke doesn’t’ do much to help with his personality or his sport. Frustrated with the team’s results in competitions, du Pont brings Dave and his family out to Foxcatcher to train the team and Mark begins to fall increasingly out of favor with du Pont. Interestingly enough, once Dave is at Foxcatcher, he and Mark reconnect and as Mark begins to lean on Dave for moral support, the two resume their once close relationship. But Mark’s relationship with du Pont crumbles and the two eventually part company.
Much has been made of Carell’s performance as du Pont….that he disappears into the role. Not really. When all is said and done, it’s Steve Carell with a big nose. Unlike some biopics, aside from wrestlers and possibly citizens of Pennsylvania, most people have no idea of what John Du Pont looks like. No reference is made to his nose in the movie…so why give Carell such a huge prosthetic one. It actually becomes a distraction and doesn’t help Carell’s one-note, monotone, lifeless performance. Channing Tatum is another story all together. His performance is remarkable…possibly even career-altering. Mark Schultz may seem simple, but there is more to him than meets the eye and Tatum manages to portray all of his layers. Although a man of few words, through Tatum’s soulful performance, he speaks volumes. As Dave, Mark Ruffalo brightens the screen every time he makes an appearance. We don’t learn much about Dave, but Ruffalo makes us like him.
Bennett Miller did outstanding work with “Moneyball” and most especially “Capote.” However, in “Foxcatcher,” he doesn’t seem to grasp du Pont’s essence. Why was he the way he was? Why wrestling? Why the Schultz brothers? Why did it all go wrong? Who really was the man behind the nose? These questions are left unanswered and make for a fairly unsatisfying story.
2 ½ nuggets out of 4