Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYFF ’14: Foxcatcher
du Pont family has a rich history, including such accomplished leaders as
former Gov. Pete du Pont and the original chemist-industrialist Éleuthère Irénée
du Pont de Nemours. John E. du Pont was definitely their black sheep. Yet,
filmmaker Bennett Miller unequivocally assured those assembled for the NYFF
press conference the du Ponts never tried to interfere with the film. In
general, they were not exactly thrilled, but several family members were
surprisingly helpful, as were most of the surviving witnesses of his downfall.
Miller rewarded their trust with a brooding psychological study, resisting
lurid sensationalism throughout Foxcatcher
screens as a Main Slate selection of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
Mark Shultz and brother, Dave, won wrestling gold medals at the 1984 Olympics. They
hope to repeat in 1988, but they do not have much support. At least Dave has
the encouragement of his family and a natural affinity for coaching. Mark on
the other hand, is something of a lost soul. Initially, the offer to come train
at du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm estate seemed like a blessing. He would finally
have the resources and structure the younger Shultz brother so obviously
needed. However, the power dynamics with his patron are problematic from the
Du Pont styles himself a wrestling coach, he really needs someone with Dave
Schultz’s expertise to drill and instruct the Foxcatcher team. Yet, unlike his
impressionable brother, Dave Schultz is not over-awed by du Pont’s wealth and elitist
demeanor. Eventually, this will lead to tragedy.
many ways, Foxcatcher is a fascinating
true crime story, but Miller determinedly freezes out any potential fun.
Instead, he offers heavy-handed commentaries on the American patriotism and
exceptionalism extolled by du Pont, contrasting them with the depressing
meanness of Mark Schultz’s circumstances. In one representative scene, Schultz receives
a paltry twenty dollar check from a middle school principal for addressing her
disinterested student body, while a photo of Pres. Reagan beams down from the
wall (after all, unionized public school administrators formed the core of the
Gipper’s support, right?).
that is all ironic garnish. The fundamental problem with Foxcatcher is the portrayal of Mark Schultz. In all fairness, it
could well constitute a career best from Channing Tatum, who must express most
of the inarticulate Schultz’s angst through body language. Clearly, the film suggests
the younger Schultz is at most a half-formed personality, who has considerable
difficulty navigating life away from the wrestling mat. The audience sees du
Pont identify and exploit his under-developed psyche, yet it never acknowledges
the host of attendant issues that would logically follow for Schultz, even before
he arrives at the estate.
there is something genuinely touching about Channing’s hulking vulnerability. Likewise,
Mark Ruffalo is terrific as the ever-protective big brother, somehow keeping
him just on the believable side of saintliness. On the other hand, even though
Steve Carrell is receiving mucho Oscar buzz for his turn as du Pont, it is
surprisingly schticky work, largely consisting of him literally looking down
his prosthetic nose at people. It is really the amalgamation of visual
symbolism rather than a performance.
It has been a rough stretch for Team USA grapplers,
considering wrestling was dropped as a “core sport” from the 2020 games (just
barely making it back in through the backdoor as an elective) and now having
the dirty linen of their greatest benefactor aired in public. It will find
plenty of champions for its class conscious polemical excesses, but it never
gets a consistent handle on just who Mark Schultz was and is. Too long and too
over-stuffed with a sense of its own self-importance, Foxcatcher is not recommended when it screens again this afternoon
(10/11) at Alice Tully Hall, as part of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Channing Tatum, NYFF '14