As the podcast Serial has proven, motive is always an important part of any crime, by it isn’t necessarily the end-all be-all. The movie Foxcatcher takes this idea and runs with it, as it tells the true story of the murder of U.S. Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz at the hand of eccentric millionaire John du Ponte, who as far as evidence has shown, didn’t really have any clear motive for killing Schultz — he just kind of snapped one day. It’s an interesting challenge that the filmmakers give themselves by trying to make sense of this seemingly unmotivated crime, and I feel like they deal with it by not ever overtly trying to explain everything. Which makes for a film that might feel a little hollow in the end, yet has so many compelling things hovering around it and such an engrossing sense of dread and uneasiness, that I’ve have a hard time getting it out of my head.
Despite a flashier performance from Steve Carrell and a more genuinely lived-in performance from Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum serves as Foxcatcher‘s protaginist in his turn as U.S. wrestler Mark Schultz that seems vaguely reminiscent of Mark Wahlberg’s “I’m the star, but no one gives a shit” performance in The Fighter. Not that Tatum is quite that level of forgettable in the face of the film’s flashier characters, but Schultz is a little one note, though the character serves the film appropriately as a consummate example of American meatheadedness. It’s Mark Schultz who’s contacted initially by Carrell’s John du Ponte, who hopes for Mark to come to Du Ponte’s Foxcatcher estate and train himself into the kind of wrestler that could bring honor and hope to Americans. Mark is immediately drawn to du Ponte’s ideals (and the fact that he’s, you know, loaded), which leads to the two men striking up an uneasy father-son relationship that leads to Olympic gold.
Even if you don’t know where this story is headed once du Ponte convinces Mark’s brother Dave to help coach at Foxcatcher, you can tell that all of this is headed towards something tragic. Because despite being a story that involves athletic triumph, director Bennett Miller constantly imbues the movie with this underlying uneasiness, which manifests itself in the film’s dour visuals as well as scenes that sometimes tend to just linger there. The film also sets up a lot of themes about American masculinity due to the seemingly mousy du Ponte’s interest in wrestling and firearms, though I’m not sure the film ever really follows through on exploring these themes. What I found more interesting was how the film illuminates the idea of “old money” in our modern times, as du Ponte’s dignified mother (Vanessa Redgrave) stands watch over her son as he succumbs to this more primitive form of competition.
Due to it’s slight strangeness and inherent downer quality, I kind of doubt Foxcatcher will catch on as much of an awards season favorite apart from it’s performances, which I think are deserving of recognition. To be honest, I’d been waiting a while for Steve Carell to make the jump to a full-on drama, since it only seems inevitable when a comedy star reaches the point of being that effortlessly funny. And even though the idea of Carell wearing a fake nose does seem a little like the facial equivalent of a fat guy wearing a fat suit, he never merely lets the make-up do the acting, as there’s a quiet complexity to the character that still never really lets us get a handle on him. Ruffalo’s performance has also started to attract some attention, and it’s the kind of performance Ruffalo does well, as he’s the kind of character that has an easiness to him that tends to squash whatever conflict may be happening all around him. But as you could probably tell from the tired adjective I keep using to describe the tone of this movie, easiness has no place in the world of Foxcatcher.