Boasting a tagline of “Based on a shocking true story” Foxcatcher features comic actor Steve Carell who disturbs as the millionaire benefactor of two Olympic gold medalist brothers who turns his patronage into a murder story. Audiences do not need to be aware of the background of the senseless and shocking death of Dave Schultz in 1996. While the film Foxcatcher merges some facts and time periods are shortened or not made clear, the tale is chilling, disturbing and upsetting. This is a personal and somewhat fictionalized version of what happened between the two brothers and John du Pont, who approached the older brother and shot him three times.
Bennett Miller (Capote, The Cruise, Moneyball) helms the film based on a script written by E. Max Frye and Don Futterman who adapted the screenplay from Mark Schultz’s novel about the 1996 murder. Steve Carell plays John du Pont, Dave Schultz is brought to life by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum becomes Mark Schultz in this the film that provides an uncomfortable and intense look at the rich Pennsylvania man who was fixated on getting the credit for winning the wrestling gold medals for the Seoul Olympics.
All three actors have performed brilliantly in this unsettling look at the background events which led to the horrific and senseless murder of an Olympic athlete and family man. Ruffalo emits that family man affability along with the traits of a type A personality who relies upon his talents and drive to succeed. The film does not focus on the murdered man till later in the proceedings as the majority of the movie deals with Mark Schultz as played by Channing Tatum. The story is, after all taken from the real Schultz’s biography and Tatum gives a performance worthy of an Oscar, in fact all three actors turn in award winning performances in Foxcatcher. Carell disturbs and impresses in the Olympic murder story as the man who takes over the inarticulate and naive Mark Schultz.
Mark is wooed by du Pont to come and work for his Olympic training team Foxcatcher, wealthy man’s plan is to have Mark and his coach brother both come work for his organization. The multi millionaire courts the athlete with the love buzz behaviour used by the predator. He singlemindedly pursues Schultz with promises of greatness and once caught, Mark is corrupted by the rich man’s eccentricities and bad habits. Things fall apart when it is revealed that Dave Schultz was who du Pont was really interested in all along. Tatum is an intense and tragic figure full of anger and frustration. A man child who is in desperate need of a father figure.
Steve Carell gives a truly disturbing performance as the rich paranoid schizophrenic that created Foxcatcher to honor himself but who had trouble connecting with people on a personal level. His du Pont portrayal shows a man who is incomplete and whose money makes up for his complete lack of interpersonal skills as well as covers up and excuses his mental illness. The 52 year old actor has proven once and for all that his skills take him out of the comic actor niche and he is a lion as dramatic performer.
Bennett Miller as director does allow the second half of the Foxcatcher story become convoluted in that it is not made abundantly clear that the older Schultz’s murder actually took place a full seven years after Mark’s fall from grace and his exit from the Pennsylvania estate. That is Miller’s only real shortfall since in every other way he draws the viewer into Mark’s world of overstimulation and intrusive patronage that du Pont smothered the athlete with in order to get what he wanted. Foxcatcher opens in cinemas on December 19 and in this recreation of a true Olympic murder story, Steve Carell truly disturbs and unsettles as John du Pont. Prepare to get caught up in this dramatic and tragic tale of madness, murder and betrayal.
By Michael Smith
AMC Town Square Theatre 18