Foxcatcher 

Fox Fail

John du Pont was the heir to a vast fortune his ancestors had acquired making powder for the U.S. Military, beginning in the Revolutionary War, and founding DuPont Chemicals. He was, Wikipedia tells us, an ornithologist, conchologist, philatelist, and the biggest benefactor the American Olympic wrestling team has ever seen, spending more than $400,000 a year on training and travel for wrestlers on his private Team Foxcatcher during the 1980s and early '90s. Then, one day, this scion of American establishment wealth and power shot and killed 1984 Olympic gold medal winner David Schultz in cold blood. That's when stories of his psychotic behavior emerged in the press. He had paranoid delusions, believing his ex-wife was a Russian spy. His relationships with some of his wresters bordered on sexual predator status. He consumed copious amounts of scotch and cocaine. As you might expect from someone who grew up in the arms industry, he really liked guns. The guy was a ticking time bomb protected by his wealth and privilege, until his crimes became too blatant to ignore.

The story seems ripe for a movie. There's violence, sport, and fodder for commentary on wealth and power. But director Bennett Miller's film about du Pont, Foxcatcher, is just mediocre, which is strange when you consider it was nominated for several Academy Awards.

click to enlarge Channing Tatum and Steve Carell
  • Channing Tatum and Steve Carell

Foxcatcher is told from the point of view of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who, along with his brother David (Mark Ruffalo), won gold at the 1984 Olympics. When it opens, Mark is struggling to make ends meet as a wrestling coach. So when he's approached by John du Pont (Steve Carell) and offered a salary of $25,000 plus free room and board to train full time for the 1988 Olympics, it's an offer he can't refuse. Du Pont seems sincere, but what at first seem like eccentricities become more sinister over time.

Or at least, that's how it would go if Foxcatcher were a good movie. In fact, Carell's du Pont is so clearly nutso from the first time we lay eyes on him, there's very little doubt that this dangerously inbred lunatic is going to explode into violence at some point. Carell is a gifted comic actor, and that skill set can translate into a truly inspired and versatile dramatic actor. But Carell's performance consists of a set of tics, a funny walk, and a raspy voice wrapped around a (granted, impressive) prosthetic nose.

Tatum is slightly more successful as Mark, who at least makes decisions and generally acts like a human being during the course of the film. But the best part of Foxcatcher is Ruffalo's subtle, empathetic portrayal of David. I can't object to his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.

But I can object to Miller's Oscar nomination as Best Director, especially since he edged out Selma's more deserving helmer Ava DuVernay. Miller's got a good eye for visual composition, and the film is at its best when he and cinematographer Greig Fraser rove their camera around the du Pont's idyllic estate. But Miller's motto seems to be, "You like that shot? I got four more just like it!" The final product seems flat and often downright boring. The central question Foxcatcher should answer is, "Why did a rich and powerful guy like John du Pont kill an American hero and devoted father of three like David Schultz?" I saw the movie, and I still don't know.

Foxcatcher is a classic example of having all the right ingredients for a good movie but somehow they don't gel. Why that sometimes happens — why talented people get together with plenty of resources but still can't make a good movie — is one of the mysteries of the art.

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
    • Wildlife

      Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal are a couple in crisis in Paul Dano’s directorial debut.
    • First Man

      Ryan Gosling plays Neil Armstrong in this flawed biopic
    • The Old Man And The Gun

      Robert Redford retires at the top of his game

Blogs

Hungry Memphis

Zopita's on the Square to open Nov. 19

We Saw You

Indie Film Fest, Grilled Cheese Fest, Adapt-A-Door and more!

Hungry Memphis

Little Italy Opening Downtown

News Blog

Seven Vie for Vacant District 1 Council Seat

News Blog

Group of White Women Test Mall’s No Hoodie Policy

Hungry Memphis

The Nine Now Open

Fly On The Wall Blog

What’s Kids in the Hall Co-Founder Kevin McDonald Doing in Memphis?

Hungry Memphis

Gordon Ramsay's in Memphis to Save a Restaurant!

News Blog

TVA CEO Set to Retire in April

News Blog

Leaders Work to Revamp Public Art Guidelines

ADVERTISEMENT

More by Chris McCoy

Readers also liked…

  • Fifty Shades Freed

    Feature length commercial for luxury goods or chilling glimpse into the post-human future?
    • Feb 16, 2018
  • Death Grip

    Memphis filmmaker Sam Bahre talks about his 11-year struggle to create I Filmed Your Death.
    • Apr 19, 2018
  • The Lost City of Z

    A mesmerizing story of obsession in the Amazon jungle
    • May 1, 2017
ADVERTISEMENT
© 1996-2018

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation