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Foxcatcher is a really interesting movie about the interplay of class, family and friendship within the context of professional wrestling (the rolling on the ground Olympic type, not the cabaret type). It is centred by three fantastic performances from Channing Tatum as Olympic gold medallist Mark Schultz, Mark Ruffalo as his brother “the great” Dave Schultz, also an Olympic gold medallist, and Steve Carell as John E Du Pont, heir of one of America’s richest families. It is based on a true story.
Du Pont offers to fund Mark’s training at his Foxcatcher farms but Dave is unwilling to uproot his family to join them. Du Pont’s relationship with Mark moves between a friend, a patron and a father. Neither the brooding, anti-social Mark or the self-centred, delusional Du Pont know how to have friends and whenever Du Pont is uncomfortable he lashes out verbally or physically to remind Mark that they are not equals.
Both Carell and Tatum hide the charisma that usually makes them such engaging actors, while Ruffalo lets his own shine through. Dave is a friendly and well adjusted family man. He’s passionate about wrestling as a sport and his job without being obsessed. Du Pont is jealous of Dave’s natural leadership qualities and his closeness with Mark and so uses Mark’s feelings of inferiority to set them apart. There is an excellent scene early on in the film where Mark and Dave are wrestling and their bodies communicate everything about their relationship. Foxcatcher’s problem lies in its narrative construction. It is paced so oddly that although it is interesting it is not often gripping.
Du Pont has grown up to view himself as something that he is not: a leader, a talented sportsman, a pillar of the community. He is not any of these things, he is just a very rich man who still has the mindset of a child; he has a tantrum when the tank he orders doesn’t come with a machine gun. The spectre of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) looms over him. He wants her approval but she considers wrestling a “low” sport, unlike her award-winning equestrian horses. Like Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond, John Du Pont pays people for their company and affection and has people around him to create a fictional life in which he is capable of thinking he is special. Both films end in tragedy.