'Foxcatcher': A Bloated True-Crime Story Based On Wealthy Heir John du Pont
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. The new film "Foxcatcher" is based on the true story of the wealthy chemical company heir John du Pont and his fraught relationship with two Olympic wrestlers - Mark Schultz and his brother Dave. Is directed by Bennett Miller, who made "Capote" and "Money Ball." And it stars Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Film critic David Edelstein has this review.
DAVID EDELSTEIN, BYLINE: At the center of the true life drama "Foxcatcher" is Steve Carell as you have never seen or heard him before. He plays John Du Pont of the Du Ponts. And the performance confirms what F. Scott Fitzgerald said of the rich - they are different from you and me. Oh boy, they're different. Carell tilts his head up at a 45 degree angle, looking down his long beak, which is false by the way. His inflections are peculiar - rhythmless. He's so abstracted that he's eerie, as if the rules of human intercourse don't apply to him. He's also obsessed with wrestling. The film is set in the late '80s and '90s. And DuPont wants to fund and house and coach a team on his vast estate near Philadelphia, Foxcatcher, that goes all the way to the Olympics. Wealth is not enough for him. Like many regular Americans, his identity hinges on winning. So he summons Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum - a former Olympian who's presently at low ebb.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FOXCATCHER")
STEVE CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Do you have any idea why asked you to come here today?
CHANNING TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.
CARELL: (As John Du Pont) No. Well, Mark, do you have any idea who I am?
TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) No.
CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Some rich guy calls you on the phone. I want Mark Schultz to come visit me. I'm a wrestling coach. And I have a deep love - the sport of wrestling. And I wanted to speak with you about your future- about what you hope to achieve. What do you hope to achieve, Mark?
TATUM: (As Mark Schultz) I want to be the best in the world. I want to go to world and win gold. I want to go to the 88 Olympics in Seoul - win gold.
CARELL: (As John Du Pont) Good. I'm proud of you.
EDELSTEIN: The good thing about that scene is it's deadpan. One bizarre rich guy reaching out of his solipsistic haze to a poor, seriously depressed athlete. It's cloud cuckoo land, played to make you laugh uncomfortably and prepare for a strange journey ahead. "Foxcatcher" has wowed many critics at festivals. There's talk of awards for Steve Carell. My own response is cooler. After that first meeting between Schultz and Du Pont, Bennett Miller directs the next two hours in exactly the same key. Tatum and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman never make clear why Schultz is so sunk in gloom from the opening frame. He seems generically tortured. And Carell runs out of variations. All that is left is to watch him get crazier and potentially explosive while everyone around him pretends not to notice. In real life, some people around Du Pont did notice and considered institutionalizing him just before he picked up a gun and committed an act of shocking violence. But Miller wants to create a vacuum in which little is spoken aloud. He doesn't oversell the movie's thesis, but it's easily inferred. Even in America, a man like Du Pont can behave with the capricious destructiveness of old monarchs. He can buy himself an Olympic medal. It's a fascinating case study perfect for a magazine article or book. But as drama, it's one sick joke. You know everything you are going to know about these people from their first scenes. I had a similar problem with Miller and Futterman's acclaimed Capote. Sure, in the title role, Philip Seymour Hoffman killed. But the film itself was sour and ponderous - a long slog exposing Capote's duplicity and self-loathing with no regard for his art. You don't even get that much out of "Foxcatcher." Cinematically, it's more resourceful. But in the end, it's just a bloated true crime story. My favorite character is the most normal - Schultz's brother, Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo. Du Pont brings Dave in as a so-called assistant coach, though of course Dave does all the coaching, Du Pont being absent and ineffectual. Ruffalo comes off as a real human being, puzzled by his new job, but happy for the opportunity. In the best scene, Du Pont sends a film crew to interview Dave on the subject of Du Pont's genius as a coach. They want Dave to say he considers Du Pont a mentor. I woke up from the stupor the movie put me in when Ruffalo registered subtle disbelief and then struggled to get those words out. It's the only time in "Foxcatcher" when you don't know what a character will do next.
DAVIES: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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