Art & Culture

I am beginning to be suspicious of films that come railing clouds of premature glory, with claims of Oscar status and a guarantee of quality that will accept no argument. Foxcatcher is an excellent film in many ways, and if I had come across it without previous warning, I probably would have been enthusiastic. But I'm not sure it deserves the songs of praise that it has attracted.

Critics can't resist an actor who breaks out his typecasting (assuming it's done well), and Steve Carell is certainly excellent as the creepy John Dupont, heir to one of the largest fortunes in the world. Dupont decided to devote some of his money and all of his time to working with and developing the American wrestling team, with most of his attention given to Mark Schutlz (Channing Tatum) who already had an Olympic gold medal. The film implies that Dupont's lack of achievement (made worse by his mother's attitude to her son) made him want to create a vicarious universe in which he could become one of the jocks.

Schuitz had a very close relationship with his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) also a wrestler, who was Mark's coach as well. Dupont is determined to have Dave as well as Mark staying at his ranch, and since enough money will get you what you want, that's what happens. And then it all goes wrong (although you could argue that it started wrong in the first place). This is where I will have to talk about aspects of the plot you may not want to know, so close your eyes and move on, if you don't know the story.

Dupont killed Dave Schultz, went to prison and died there. That is the climax of the film, the shocking event up to which everything else has been leading. But that's where the problems start. The film makes the distorted relationship between Dupont and Mark Schultz as the centrepiece of the story, and suggests that Dave was an unwilling onlooker. But it is 8 years after Mark leaves Dupont's mansion before his brother is murdered, and the film neglects to spell out that key fact. What was happening during those 8 years after Mark left, when Dave was still living there with his wife and family and was (so the records show) friends with Dupont? 

The murder seems to take place in another universe, out of connection with what has gone before. It's as if director Bennett Miller couldn't sort out the anomalies intrinsic to the story and so over-simplified things. The film is really about Dupont's relationship with Mark Schultz, and the murder of his brother eight years later is almost an irrelevance – or at least a distraction. 

Having said all that, the acting is excellent, and Miller has a great ability to capture emotional complexity without words. I was fully engaged in the film until the end. It was only when I read about the case, and stopped to think by why I was so unmoved by what should have been a shocking climax that I began to question what I had seen. 

I would recommend you go and see it, and would be very interested in any responses you have.

When you've seen the film, read this, which you may find very interesting. Don't read it before you see the film.


Phil Raby 

Front Row Films 

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