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'Foxcatcher'

'Foxcatcher' tells of millionaire John du Pont's dark influence
over the Olympic wrestling team
HEAD LOCK: Wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), learns that the support of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) comes with plenty of strings attached.

Bennett Miller's new film concerns the strange case of John du Pont—a murderer whose unignorable resemblance to Mr. Burns on The Simpsons will probably be teased out in an upcoming parody. In Foxcatcher the wealthy madman is brought to an unnerving, pale form of life by Steve Carell. Carell uses a nose prosthetic to look down his nose on his lessers—and as du Pont was one of the richest men in America, there were a lot of lessers.

Foxcatcher is the coldest true-crime tale since Fargo. It's a tragic-comedy set during the collapse of the Reagan years. Du Pont's proteges and victims were a pair of brothers who had represented the USA at the 1984 Olympics. The millionaire was a freestyle wrestling enthusiast, and he offered the US Olympic committee a training center at his Pennsylvania estate. With all of the cunning of a madman, du Pont worked a long, slow process of intimidation against the pair as they coached the team. He exploited sibling rivalry to find the cracks between the married, even-tempered David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), and the lonelier, more stolid Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum).

Miller (Moneyball) serves us rations of du Pont's bad chemicals in frosted little cordial glasses, but the man was apparently a fountain of frothy delusions (he thought he was Christ, for example). Carell never previously excelled his TV work on the bigger screen. Moments of obsequious loathsomeness on The Office are matched only by John Cleese's Basil Fawlty—maybe the most invertebrate deed Michael Scott ever did was excusing himself for sleeping with an underling's mother on the grounds that the mom came on to him first.

The yearnings of such a slug-like figure energize Foxcatcher. Let's assume the fox being caught is Tatum. It's a beautifully closeted drama. I mean beautifully closeted like Gilda was and like Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil probably should have been. It's not homosexuality that makes monsters, it is closets, and the movie seems to have the chill of secret passion—if indeed this passion is really what we're seeing, and the fun is in that Schrodinger's cat situation. In freestyle wrestling, contestants dress like Borat in man-sized upside-down thongs. Obviously, it's not a sport for people who are uneasy with their sexuality, The first grapple between the brothers finds a particular male/male tenderness even when Tatum's Mark lashes out with his fist. But the latter bouts are perhaps an excuse for the weird du Pont to cop a grope. As in the great closeted dramas of yesterday's cinema, the mom is responsible—Vanessa Redgrave is wheeled in as the old gorgon.

On the whole, Foxcatcher is a very intense and suspenseful film that builds to its act of madness—Miller gets more out of the previously spudlike Channing Tatum than any previous director. Miller keeps posing Tatum with his back to us, which gives us the huge mass of the man, and not the oft-inert face; Tatum is quite affecting examining his trophies, like Robert Ryan did in On Dangerous Ground.

With ever longer lenses and vaster snowscapes, Miller keeps his distance, but then he has to remind us what side he's on with some clumsy class-card playing. After keeping radio silence for the first half, Miller opposes this self-named "Eagle" du Pont with Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan audio quotes as if we hadn't scoped the difference between this icy, crazy rich man and his team of gladiators. Note how many times we're reminded what a mensch Ruffalo is. I should mention that upon renting a motel room, my first gesture is to turn down the air conditioning to the "morgue" setting. Maybe I prefer it too cold, but I resented the way Miller keeps fiddling with the thermostat in his film, as if he were worried it was chilly in the theater.

Foxcatcher

134 MIN., R


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