Sunday, December 28, 2014
Directed by Bennett Miller and written by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, Foxcatcher is the true story about the famed Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz and his tumultuous association with the millionaire John du Pont during the 1980s and 1990s as it leads to trouble upon the involve of Mark’s older brother Dave. The film is an exploration of a young man trying to get out of the shadow of his older brother as he finds attention and care in this eccentric millionaire only for things to go very wrong. Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vanessa Redgrave. Foxcatcher is a chilling yet intoxicating film from Bennett Miller.
The film is a fictional take on the relationship between the millionaire John Eleuthere du Pont and Schultz brothers as du Pont asks Mark Schultz to lead an American amateur wresting team to glory where they later get Mark’s older brother Dave into the picture. It’s a film that explores men trying to live up to legacies of their families as well as finding friendship amidst their sense of loneliness. It’s a film filled with motivations and character study where Mark (Channing Tatum) is young man who wants to be the best wrestler in the world. Despite winning a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, its success hasn’t given him much as he is also often in the shadow of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) who is also an Olympic gold medalist. For John du Pont (Steve Carell), forming a wrestling team for America and give it more importance as well as establish his own legacy away from the world of horse racing that his family is known for.
The film’s screenplay by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye definitely explore two men trying to find their own identities as it’s the source of the bond between Mark and du Pont. Especially as Mark is in need of someone who could help him escape his brother’s shadow while du Pont is looking for someone that can give him his own legacy in the world of wrestling. The two become close friends as Mark sees du Pont as a father/mentor as he would also help du Pont in teaching him how to wrestle where du Pont would compete in a seniors tournament. Yet, the closeness wouldn’t last as both Mark and du Pont knew they need Dave to come in and help the wrestling team as Dave is also an accomplished coach. Though Mark initially tried to get Dave to join Team Foxcatcher, named after the stables in du Pont’s family estate, but Dave said no due to other commitments as well as the need to settle with his own family.
When Dave does eventually join the team after Mark’s attempt to lead the team failed due to his own insecurities and encounter with the vices of du Pont’s world. Mark tries to alienate himself from du Pont and his brother so he could make it on his own where he would watch du Pont admire Dave from afar. Dave Schultz is definitely the most interesting character of the three as he is someone that definitely cares for his brother and his well-being while knowing the issues he had to do to stand out. He would watch his brother self destruct as he would do whatever to help him while he would have this very uneasy relationship with du Pont that would be very troubling. Even in the film’s third act where it becomes clear into the sense of companionship that du Pont needed away from his wealth and the legacy of his family. All of which would play into the question into du Pont’s own mental well-being and the depth of his unraveling.
Bennett Miller’s direction is truly exquisite in the way he tells the story while not using elements of time to tell the story other in the wrestling matches that the Schultz brothers participated in. Yet, he begins the film with an example of Mark’s life where he lives in a small apartment with not very much as he doesn’t say much either where it’s clear that being an Olympic gold medalist hasn’t done squat for him. It is told with these intricate tracking shots with little dialogue as he is seen by some of his peers as a kid who got lucky because he’s Dave’s little brother. Miller uses some unique compositions to play into the loneliness that revolves around Mark and du Pont as he uses some unique medium shots as well as objects to play into their own personal desires. Even in the latter whose office features a U.S. flag in the back of his wall while his trophy room is a place where he looks as something where he can see as a personal wall of his own triumph to make his own legacy under the family name.
While much of the film is shot in Virginia and Pennsylvania, it does have this look that feels very American from the nearby locations of historical sites such as Valley Forge where it is this world that is about a man trying to maintain a legacy through his family name. At the same time, there is an importance where du Pont wants to have wrestling be given more exposure as there’s a scene early in the film where Mark is giving a speech to school kids who seem very disinterested in what he has to say. There’s also these unique shots that play into a sense of danger as it relates to du Pont and his troubled mental state as he is seen as very unpredictable where he is likely to tick. While much of the story takes place in the late 1980s, it adds to this sense of American idea of du Pont trying to ensure the country’s dominance in the world of wrestling despite the fact that his mother sees it as a low sport.
Upon its third act where the relationship between Mark and du Pont reaches a breaking point where Dave has to intervene. It does play into very key aspects where Miller’s direction becomes much tighter to showcase two men who can’t really be in the same room together. Notably in this meeting where Dave becomes Mark’s voice of reason in how to deal with du Pont as it would eventually lead to elements of tragedy. Even as it goes back to du Pont where he is also living under the shadow of his own family as his attempts to create his own legacy would have him unravel in many ways. Overall, Miller creates a very compelling and evocative film about two men trying to make their own destinies away from the legacy of their own family namesakes.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser does incredible work with the film‘s cinematography with its use of low-key lights and fog for some of the exterior scenes in the morning along with some lighting schemes and shades for some of the interiors such as the home that Mark would live during his time at Foxcatcher as well as the office of du Pont and his trophy room. Editors Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill, and Jack Cassidy do brilliant work with the editing to capture the energy of the wrestling matches as well as some inspired use of jump-cuts in some of the wrestling along with methodical moments in the dramatic sections of the film. Production designer Jess Gonchor, with set decorator Kathy Lucas and art director Brad Ricker, does amazing work with the set pieces from the look of the trophy room and offices that du Pont surrounds himself in as well as the Foxcatcher training facility. Costume designer Kasia Walicka-Maimone does nice work with the look of the team uniforms and sweats while the casual look is very low-key to play with the film‘s look.
Makeup prosthetics designer Mark Nieman, along with hair stylist Betty Lou Skinner and makeup artist Dennis Liddiard, does fantastic work with the look of the du Pont character with his nose and aging face as well as a brief look of highlights in Mark during his time at Foxcatcher. Visual effects supervisor James Pastorius does terrific work with some of the film‘s minimal visual effects from some of the set dressing of some of the exteriors in the different locations of the film. Sound editors Paul Hsu and Ronald Eng do excellent work with the sound to create a sense of texture that goes on in the training facility with some sparse moments as well as how dialogue is heard in low-key moments along with chilling moments to play into du Pont‘s troubled state of mind. The film’s music by Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson is superb for its hypnotic and haunting score with elements of pianos and lush orchestral music with a recurring theme composed by Mychael Danna to play into the melancholia while music supervisor Susan Jacobs brings in a soundtrack filled with traditional music as well as a song from David Bowie.
The casting by Jeanne McCarthy is marvelous as it features some notable small roles from Francis J. Murphy III as a security officer of du Pont in a very crucial scene, Brett Rice and Fred Cole as two business associates of du Pont, David “Doc” Bennett as a documentary filmmaker who interviews du Pont and Dave for a video on the Foxcatcher facility, Samara Lee and Jackson Frazer as Dave’s kids, and Anthony Michael Hall as du Pont’s liaison Jack who would introduce Mark to du Pont and tell him what is off limits as the family estate. Vanessa Redgrave is excellent as du Pont’s mother Jean as this woman who casts a big shadow on her son as she is someone who disapproves of his love of wrestling. Sienna Miller is fantastic in a small but memorable role as Dave’s wife Nancy as this woman is just someone that supports Dave as she isn’t fond of du Pont where her big moment is towards the film’s end.
Mark Ruffalo is incredible as Dave Schultz as an accomplished Olympic wrestling champion that is very content with what he has as he wants to help Mark and du Pont as he becomes concerned with the former as there’s a great sense of sensitivity and warmth to his role that makes him such an endearing character. Channing Tatum is amazing as Mark Schultz as an Olympic champion who copes with his lack of success and being in his brother’s shadow as he takes an opportunity to be treated as someone special only to succumb to self-destructive elements that would play into his insecurities and hatred towards du Pont over feelings of abandonment. Finally, there’s Steve Carell in a tremendous performance as John du Pont as this eccentric multi-millionaire who is eager to make a name for himself as he is someone that is looking for a real friend only to create problems that would drive Mark away from him and Dave being very skeptical as it’s a very dark performance from Carell.
Foxcatcher is an outstanding film from Bennett Miller that features phenomenal performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. It’s a film that explores the world of men trying to create their own identities amidst the shadows of their own families as well as one man’s descent into madness and loneliness. Especially in someone as John du Pont who is surrounded by everything a man could want but not the simplest things in life. In the end, Foxcatcher is a riveting and rapturous film from Bennett Miller.
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