Here’s a new film for a change–“Foxcatcher”

I’ve been asked why I don’t write more pieces on current films. I guess the short answer to that one is, everyone else already does it. Additionally, there are a lot of forgotten older films that need critical airing. It’s not that I don’t watch current films–but I just recently did a post on “The Salvation”–and another recent film that impressed me was “Foxcatcher.”

“Foxcatcher” is a bit tricky to classify. Broadly speaking, it’s a drama; zeroing in a bit more it could be classed in the Crime/Suspense genre under the sub-genre category “True-Crime Films.” It is about a sensational murder that took place when John Du Pont, a member of the wealthy and powerful Du Pont family shot and killed Dave Schultz, a champion wrestler and wrestling coach who worked for Du Pont’s Team Foxcatcher. It’s also a character study, courtesy of Steve Carell’s masterful evocation of the psychologically-damaged Du Pont.

I’m told by those who have read up on the case that the film plays fast and loose with chronology. Apparently the brothers Dave and Mark Schultz were involved with Du Pont for over a decade. The film makes it appear as if all the action takes place in a two or three year period. Also, both brothers were part of Du Pont’s organization at different times not at the same time as depicted in the film. Following Du Pont’s killing of the elder Schultz brother, “Foxcatcher” makes it seem that Du Pont was arrested in short order, whereas I recall that a protracted stand-off took place between police and the heavily-armed Du Pont on the grounds of his estate. But these are mere quibble-points. None of which actually detract from the film which works splendidly as drama.

There is a sort of “big-fleas-have-little-fleas” scenario at work here as we watch Du Pont alternately seduce and belittle his minions, building them up to later tear them down. But then we learn that, in the film at least, Du Pont himself was treated this same way by his wheelchair-bound mother who steadfastly withheld the approval he so desperately wished to receive from her.

It is also a dark, almost Victorian tale of a talented, but insecure working-class guy who is ensnared by a wealthy older man who gives him all the validation he could ever hope for–at first–only to slowly take it back a piece at a time, reducing the once-promising competitor to a psychological wreck. Carell, with a fake nose almost as spectacular as the one sported by Nicole Kidman in “The Hours,” appears to literally look down it as he deals with “the little people” in his halting graceless manner. As we watch his performance, eccentricity slowly shades into insanity. Even then “Foxcatcher” didn’t tell the whole story–for instance Du Pont’s involvement with extremist political groups is only lightly hinted at–most tellingly in the almost-comic scene in which he refuses to accept delivery on a surplus U.S. Army armored troop carrier because its .50-cal machine gun has been removed. (The joke sours a bit later on when we see two GIs delivering the coveted machine gun to him.)

In a year that was top-heavy with Oscar-nominated true-life dramas, I can understand why “Foxcatcher” was passed over for top honors, but I suspect that it’s a film that will stand the test of time and be watched when some of other nominees have been relegated to blogs like mine.

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