Film in review – “Foxcatcher”

Foxcatcher_First_Teaser_PosterA film that’s just been nominated for three Golden Globes should be better than this.

It’s loosely based on the true story of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team training on the DuPont estate, largely because of the largesse of John Du Pont (Steve Carell), the rich inheritor of a huge chemical fortune, who pretty much does absolutely nothing for a living.

Carell plays Du Pont with such a complete lack of affect that we think he’s probably on antidepressives, when in fact, we see him snorting some cocaine. Carell’s Du Pont is full of himself with no particular reason to be, other than he’s used to his moneymaking people jump when he calls, which they usually do as long as he pays them. He doesn’t seem to have any real friends. In fact, he wistfully explains once that the only boyhood friend he had, the son of the chauffeur, was later found to be paid by his mother to be his friend.

Yes, that’s pretty pathetic. And so is this character. Much more sympathetic is the wrestling team itself, led by 1984 Olympic champion Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum). Tatum is physically convincing enough when he’s on the mat, but his limited range of expression makes him seem severely depressed, or maybe even developmentally stunted, and the only one who can really reach him is his brother, David (Mark Ruffalo). David is a perceptive coach and energetic mentor, but he’s also married with a couple of kids, so at first he doesn’t make the move with Mark to the Du Pont “Foxcatcher” Estate to train for the 1988 Olympics. But soon Du Pont realizes that Mark needs David even for his own training and development, much less being able to coach anybody else. And honestly, Du Pont assuming that he is a “mentor” to them is simply a rich man’s fantasy about his money buying competency. But that doesn’t prevent him from making officious statements about effort, excellence, teamwork and other banal clichés.

The pacing is way too slow. There’s way too much space between the dialogue, as if we’re supposed to sit there and ponder the profundity of what was just said, but the trouble is, there’s nothing profound happening. Even the training regimen doesn’t look very convincing: They run around in the woods and watch videos of other wrestlers… and that’s supposed to help them progress to the highest competitive edge?

The competitions themselves aren’t explained very well, either, especially the scoring system. Maybe all we need to know is who’s winning and who’s losing? This might have been a good opportunity to teach viewers about the intricacies of real strategy on the mat, but there’s none of that, either. (After all, wrestling has been an Olympic sport since the ancient Greeks.) If you really want to see a good movie about wrestling, try “Win Win” (2011). Otherwise, don’t waste your time and money waiting for the one late surprise of this clunker.


RONALD P. SALFEN is the parish associate at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.