A Lifetime of Loneliness in 2 Hours: Review of Foxcatcher

A MADDENING LIFETIME OF LONELINESS IN 2 HOURS: REVIEW OF FOXCATCHER

Or, Why Did I Actually Watch This Movie?

or

What Did I Miss?

I don't appreciate movie and television trailers that have the entire plot outlined in them. Watch the trailer.  You don't have to watch the movie.  The trailer explains the entire movie, and if you're led to believe that Du Pont is going to shoot Mark Schultz, then you don't know the "real" story.

I've seen thousands of movies in my lifetime.  So many, that I have forgotten most of the movies and television shows I have seen.  For example, I just saw a reference to the television show Picket Fences (1992 - 1996) and totally forgot how much I loved that show, but I had to go back into my computer files and actually explore what the show portrayed.  It's been that way for me.  I discuss film, and I try to discuss all of the strange mysteries I have seen - usually getting so wrapped up in David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, or Quentin Tarantino that I forget Ridley Scott or a three really interesting movies just for the subject matter alone (and acting quality):  Boxing Helena (you have to see this one to believe it), American Psychopath, and Seven Psychopaths (three movies that really caught my attention).  

Plus, when asked to rattle off all of Tarantino's works or Lynch's works, I have to stop short because I cannot remember all of them, although I have seen all of them more than one time. I know my love for the weird and absurd movie is deep rooted, and it's not that I am a strange person that way, it is just that I like to see movies by directors who try hard at the craft to develop something that sticks to a person's memory for a long while.

I loved Gangs of New York, and mostly because it involved a cast of characters who actually care about their roles, directed by Martin Scorcese - a director who has the backing, talent, and support of the movie industry to do what he wants when he wants.  The same is true for Francis Ford Coppola, which leads me to a film I thought was extremely underrated, although Sophia Coppola won an Oscar for best Original Screenplay and Bill Murray won a Golden Globe - cannot understand why he was shut out for an Oscar (honestly - watch some of Murray's films - Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, St. Vincent and compare them to his performance in Lost in Translation (which I thought was extremely underrated as a movie - go ahead, watch it again.  Watch it two more times.  I guarantee you will see more with each viewing than you saw before).

I also readily admit as a movie fan that I forgot it was David Lynch who directed Dune. Obviously, some missed opportunities in this film, but if you really know David Lynch, it was his "coming out party" in the world of weird directing.

  Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson take some down time on  Lost in Translation

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannson take some down time on Lost in Translation

  Daniel Day Lewis at The Butcher in  Gangs of New York

Daniel Day Lewis at The Butcher in Gangs of New York

  Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken in  Seven Psychopaths

Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, and Christopher Walken in Seven Psychopaths

  Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan)

Paul Atreides (Kyle MacLachlan)

However, I don't want to leave the subject at hand:  Foxcatcher. I am writing this review only with the memory of Du Pont and the murder of Dave Schultz (played by Sam Ruffalo).  Including that bit of information, I knew nothing of the background of this movie, read nothing about it, until I actually paid money to see it.

Watching the plot of Foxcatcher, I must admit, is much like watching a snail move along the ground, waiting for it to reach it's goal.

The problem I see with this movie is that it is so full of self-loathing, depressed "winners" in life, that is is extremely difficult to watch.  Is this a movie about the acting range of Steve Carrel?  Is this a movie about wrestling?  Is this a movie about a corrupt US Olympic Committee so hungry for money that it turns its entirely wrestling program over into the hands of a certified psychopath?  Is this a movie about the dwindling wrestling abilities of a once great hero?  Is this a movie about wrestler's doing cocaine and then winning a World Championship? I can't figure this one out.  

Director Bennett Miller did a fantastic job portraying Billy Beane in Moneyball, a real life colorful character who is wide open for interpretation, and Miller could play with the facts of this story a bit - take poetic license if you will.  The same can be said for his portrayal of Truman Capote in Capote.  But Du Pont is NOT that kind of character.  Once you get a glimpse of Du Pont and his constant dragging on and on, the viewer is happy when he is not in the scene.

And the incessant self-mutilation of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum).  What does this mean? Why does Schultz hate himself?  Is it because he is befriended by Du Pont?  Is he embarrassed about the success of his brother, Dave, who eventually is shot by Du Pont in the end?  If you like scene after scene of Tatum punching himself in the face for no really apparent reason, other than he is frustrated, but frustrated about what, exactly.

And when the caretaker, upon moving Mark Schultz into the "compound," why does he EXACTLY point out to Tatum that he is NOT PERMITTED NEAR THE MAIN HOUSE.  What does this mean?  Is this some sort of foreshadowing of what is to come.  Is Schultz going to be drawn to the mansion and discover some horror?  No. The mansion means nothing but serving as a symbol of the wealthy.  Is Mark Schultz upset about not having the money Du Pont has?  These are questions I still have after the movie.  What, when, where, why, how?  Mr. Miller, please explain it to me.

This movie is extremely slow and plodding, much like the characters portrayed by Carrel and Redgrave.  Both characters draw the viewer into an extremely slow pace - watching and listening to this plodding causes one to sink deeper and deeper into one's seat - never to be lifted out of the seat because there is really no action to speak of - if you like to see small bits of wrestling.

The sad part of the movie comes when Du Pont's mother shows up at an Olympic practice, and Du Pont takes over coaching, "teaching" very basic moves to accomplished wrestlers.  Of course, she leaves, driving a dagger even deeper into Du Ponts already decaying heart.  

Yes, Steve Carrel does a stellar job of playing the lonely, isolated, paranoid, depressed, angry, something-to-prove John DuPont.  But is he really acting. It appears to me that Carrel probably was given a heavy dose of some sort of tranquilizer before each scene.  It's really not hard to play a character who only cares about one thing and hates everything else, as Carrel does.  

  Steve Carrel as John Du Pont

Steve Carrel as John Du Pont

I am in no way criticizing Carrel, whose body of work speaks for itself, but this movie is so darn depressing, form the very beginning to the very end, that it actually baffles me that it actually was a film.  I know we are all looking for the different, the weird, the unexplainable - but this film is none of that.  One hundred and thirty four minutes of total depression.  DuPont has absolutely no redeeming characteristics, neither does his mother, and I would say that Channing Tatum could have been played by any actor.  Just go through the motions.  Get paid for not really acting.  

Foxcatcher did receive accolades at the Cannes Film Festival, but I feel that this was because the movie was so different - so out of the ordinary, and it does fall into that category. It is a great piece of history, no doubt.  If you are interested in this type of movie, by all means, I would suggest seeing it. But it is extremely slow moving, at times yawningly slow.  Maybe this is because of the slow, deliberately acting of Steve Carrel as John Du Pont.  Maybe it is because Channing Tatum isn't playing his usual role ofMagic Mike or 21 Jump Street. 

It does show a dark time in Olympic history and and even darker time regarding the soul-less wealthy control freak and the death of a truly good man, Dave Schultz. To me, one of the most important messages is that the US Olympic Boxing commission could be bought out for $500,000.

Of course, Tatum is acting.  He is acting drunk, he is acting depressed, he is acting as a drug addict - but who is he.  He is a tool in Carrel's toolbox - someone or something to play with. Someone who gives DuPont a reason to live. 

I see nothing really redeeming in the movie Foxcatcher.  We are reminded too many times of misfits who dosn't fit in to society and attempt to act out in a way that might make them famous.  Carrel is funny, I have to admit.  Funny in a very weird sort of way.  Tatum is dull and to me me shows he isn't much a a "dramatic" actor.  His scenes are not inspirational, and the use of his talented brother Dave Schultz (Dave Ruffalo) are totally overshadowed by I really don't know what.  Dave, the much more talented and decorated of the two brothers, is brought into the drama to help Du Pont coach his brother and other would-be olympic hopefuls.  

  Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz and the real David Schultz, killed by Du Pont

Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz and the real David Schultz, killed by Du Pont

  Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz

Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz

There isn't much to say about this movie.  Du Pont is an historical loser, and uses his wealth to buy his way into making Foxcatcher Farms into the official olympic training site.  He offers the US Wrestling Olympic Board (Olympic heavyweight champ and Edinboro graduate and coach Bruce Baumgartner gets a nice five second profile shot in the movie) $500,000.  So, the movie shows us that the US Olympic Board can be purchased for a half of a million dollars by an insane wackjob.  Knowing Du Pont's history (heck, even just talking to the guy for a few minutes), one would walk away saying that there is something seriously wrong with this dude. I wouldn't put this man in charge of a pig stye, let along a promising group of wrestling talent who would come to represent the United States.

Even at the end of the movie when Du Pont shoots Dave Schultz is totally void of emotion, as is every scene in this movie.  He slowly drives up to Shultz's house, stops his car, pulls out a gun, and shoots Dave.  That's it.  Dave is dead.  End of his story.

Yes, Channing Tatum does slam his head into a mirror to offer some dramatic element in the movie; however, I do have some doubts about how Mark Schultz, whom Du Pont turned into a crack head, is able to quickly get ready and win the World Championships.  World class athlete or not, no one does the amount of cocaine that Schutlz does and then turns around and wins a World Championship - he isn't that good - he is good, but he is NOT READY, if that is what the movie intends us to feel.

I would say that other than Carrel's extremely weird portrayal of a crazy man, Vanessa Redgrave is wheeled in and out of scenes so quickly that her lack of presence is stereotyped for us to know that yes, John Du Pont had a lousy life.  Again, where is mom when a lunatic capable of murder is put in charge of ALL of the US Olympic Wrestlers - is there no accountability.  Or, does this movie put a scar on the wealthy of that time?  I don't know.  I was too busy trying to figure out the reality of the movie.  If the movie is supposed to show the reasons why Dave Schultz was killed, it didn't deserve almost 2 and 1/2 hours of my time to do it.  

  Oh my God.  Wake up.  Venessa Redgrave as Heiress Jean du Pont - talk about "like mother like son"

Oh my God.  Wake up.  Venessa Redgrave as Heiress Jean du Pont - talk about "like mother like son"

I know I am missing something with this movie.  Redgrave called the movie a "masterpiece - one of Bennett Miller" (Moneyballand Capote).  I don't see the masterpiece of this work as I did see great movies in both Moneyball and Capote. Miller loves to do biopics about strange and individualistic characters. I strongly feel that Tatum brings nothing to the movie - he has no emotion other than throwing things around while in a drunken or doped stopur, Ruffalo is Ruffalo, doing his best to fill the role he is given, Redgrave is a dead body being pushed around in a wheelchair, and Steve Carrel, although a fine actor, does a great job of playing this lonely young boy who never was able to reach adulthood.

Note:  I don't usually write reviews on movies I neither disliked nor understood.  But after weeks and weeks of really trying to put my finger on "why" this movie was made, I just can't. Sorry.  I would not spend my hard earned money on this film, and the fact that it so quickly went to cable might be an indication that I am not the only one to feel this way.

What I have attempted to do above, and hopefully with some clarity, is that I am indeed a fan of those movies that do not attract the "normal" moving going public.  I am a fan of directors and actors going that "extra mile" to create something of a niche or a spot that hasn't been filled before.  I give examples of a few of those movies that made this attempt and did it quite well.  I am not sure that Miller does this.  The following is what I take from watching intently the movie Foxcatcher and the politics of the movie:

  • Miller is taking a rather harsh stab at what having too much money can do to a person - if Mrs. Du Pont and her son John are examples of this.  It is an indictment of the extremely wealthy, who, in turn, are extremely bored.
  • Miller is attacking the US Olympic Wrestling Committee (at the time) for putting its up and coming stars in the hands of a maniac for $500,000.
  • Miller is making light of the intellect of wrestlers - by way of the way Mark Schultz behaves - cocaine abuse, alcohol abuse, self abuse.
  • Miller is pinning the decline of "America" as John Du Pont repeatedly points out, and that decline can only be saved by the likes of a lunatic like Du Pont.
  • Is Miller saying "nice guys finish last?"  For the only person to finish "last" was Dave Schultz, who died only because he was trying to help and was a threat to Du Pont's coaching and successes.  However, in spite of Dave Schultz's help, Du Pont would not have had championships.
  • How true to the actual events did Miller stay?  That is something I intend to research in the upcoming weeks.  If Miller is on topic with his assessment, then was this really worthy of a full length movie?
  • The movie contains a "creepiness" that I have not seen in all of my years of movie going.
  • To me, it's creep-o-meter is higher than Lynch's Eraserhead, again, in my opinion. I say this because at least with a movie such as Eraserhead, I know there is something "there" there.  I do not have that same feeling about Foxcatcher.

FINAL NOTE:  If anyone reading this review has a more definitive take on its overall meaning and legitimacy, please feel free to comment on this post.  I'd be more than happy to entertain any comments.