Testosterone and money are a heady, fatal mix. New money and old money may seem the same if you’ve got none, but when the Schultz brothers decided to deal with the über-weird John Du Pont they made a deal with a devil whose power they couldn’t even comprehend. We all know that everyone has their price, but the Schultz brothers, Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo), have to go through the rigors of hell before setting a price for their souls.
Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s follow up to another little tome about sports and corruption, Moneyball (2011) wears its cynicism on its sleeve. Sure, we’ve all got a price, but Mark Schultz—an Olympic gold medal winner for wrestling in 1984—comes bargain basement cheap. Because Olympic eligibility rules are so arcane, a flat-broke Schultz lives on a diet of ramen noodles and water while training to retain his world number one rating with a view toward repeating at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. His older brother Dave, smaller and more cynical, comes with Mark as part of a package. Those brotherly roots are what John Du Pont (Steve Carell) can neither purchase nor comprehend. Together they are as incomprehensible to John Du Pont as a pair of Venusian-speaking duck-billed platypuses.
A bit of background might be in order to give a little perspective to this truth-is-stranger-than-fiction flick. The Du Pont clan got rich modernizing gunpowder during the War of 1812, and seems to have been involved in every deal involving the Military Industrial Complex ever since. Teflon, Kevlar, nylon, polyester, synthetic rubber, dum-dum bullets, napalm, and most particularly practical for Greco-Roman wrestlers, Lycra spandex: All of it is as American as apple pie and has made the Du Ponts filthy, fuck-you, old money (at least by American standards) rich.
John Du Pont, who is absolutely inhabited by a twitchy Steve Carrell, spends millions to build a gym at Foxcatcher, his family estate. Laughably inept as a wrestler himself, the relentlessly nervous Du Pont seems to be a mix of anti-bon vivant, philanthropist, and latent homoerotic voyeur. Somehow, he feels that any success the athletes glean will lead to receiving respect from his distant, ghostly mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Du Pont, in his own very lizard-like distant way, loves having his Olympic wrestlers, their coaches and even the Olympic Committee, all wear his Foxcatcher-logo t-shirt and sweatshirts. Carrell, so often typecast as the ultra-repressed, deeply decent, simple, middle-class type, takes that lonely-in-a-room-full-of-friends-type he specializes in and than ratchets it up about five notches on the Richter scale to inhabit this forlorn, desert island of a tyrant. The tics he uses—his butt bending upward as he executes a mincing sashay of a walk, the talk from a barely opened set of lips—are of a man who barely pays any attention to the rest of the world.
Simultaneously, Mark runs the gamut of emotions. A tough guy who pouts. He needs a sugar daddy and seems quite content to flirt and pout with John at arm’s length. Just how dim and dumb he actually is may be hard to calculate, but in those few moments when he pauses to punch himself in the head, we realize he is not immune to the knowledge of the tragedy his Faustian deal has set in motion.
Plot-wise, I don’t want to give away too much, but once Dave enters proceedings and refuses to ply along with Du Pont’s perverse, collective, ‘All-American’ fantasy, the center of things slowly starts to disintegrate. It’s certainly a method actor’s paradise at the Foxcatcher estate and Bennett Miller is a clever enough director to not interfere too much.