“Foxcatcher” is director Bennett Miller’s explorations into the dark side of sports. Based on true events, “Foxcatcher” retells the dark and tragic story of the megalomaniac multimillionaire, John E. (“Eagle”) du Pont (played by the unrecognizable Steve Carrell). A failed wrestler himself, du Pont lavishes a fraction of his fortune onto the Schultz brothers whom he hopes will win the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Most of the scenes are shot near du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate in rural Pennsylvania.
Flattered by du Pont’s attention and financial support, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) gradually views his benefactor as a father figure, becoming increasingly dependent on du Pont for approval and for his own sense of self-worth. We do not quite know Mark’s intellectual capabilities, an omission that prevents our understanding of his character. Tatum occasionally acts as if his character as a below-average IQ who is not only an emotionally vulnerable young athlete but unable to grasp the threatening situation he is in.
Some things money can’t buy. Only the older brother, Dave Schultz (a superbly underplayed performance by Mark Ruffalo) realizes the critical balance between competition and personal values and yet he too succumbs to the duPont mystique, partly for the sake of supporting his younger brother. DuPont himself, however, is not simply a philanthropist interested in patriotism and the gold-medal He was also a damaged, unlikeable and unstable person. Hints are revealed that du Pont’s relationship with his mother (a subdued performance by Vanessa Redgrave) is toxic, and that his every action is a reaction to her. From his own dysfunctional family experience, du Pont is bewildered by and incapable of understanding Dave’s devotion to his family and independence from du Pont’s financial control.
While the narrative is a tale of fury and tragedy, Carrell imbues DuPont with a personality so distant, emotionally remote, and obsessive-compulsive that we do not intuit his backstory in depth, at least not sufficiently to understand his need to compensate for a lack of love (blame it on the mother!) The camera slowly pans over acreage demonstrating great wealth and focusing on weapons and trophies, but the silent storm of du Pont’s psyche is not revealed in a dramatic enough way to justify the slow pace and the gaps in the psychological landscape. “Foxcatcher” could have been a high-quality film but let this one go.