★★★★ | Foxcatcher

John Eleuthère du Pont the spoilt heir to the vast Dupont chemical fortune was a dangerous paranoid psychopath who ended up destroying lives when he didn’t get his own way. The fact that he was also a deeply disturbed closeted homosexual is also very obvious in this new chilling true crime drama based on his life, yet it is a fact that nearly all the critics, without exception, have chosen to ignore.

Du Pont lived in the shadows of his dominant elderly aristocratic mother on their vast estate in Pennsylvania which he had renamed Foxcatcher Farm. His mother’s one obsession was her herd of thoroughbred horses and the Trophy Room that housed all their awards was the most important place in their Mansion. Du Pont deeply resented his Mother’s preference to her stallions over him, and so he built a gym in the grounds to focus on his one big addiction to the sport of wrestling, well wrestlers in particular.

The year is 1987, and three years prior Mark Shultz and his brother Dave had won Gold Medals for wrestling at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Whilst Dave has settled down in Colorado and got married, had children and has a job coaching, Mark has a sad solitary life where his main daily function is to train for the next World Games. When he gets a phone call out of the blue from multi-millionaire du Pont inviting him to fly to Pennsylvania as his guest for a meeting, having nothing to lose, he accepts the free plane ticket and goes.

Du Pont tells Mark that he wants not just to underwrite all his expenses but for him to establish a team of wrestlers under the Foxcatcher banner that he would like to help train for the World Games. If they all live on campus, he will also pay them generous wages too. It’s an offer that loner Mark cannot refuse and without even questioning, du Pont’s possible motives, throws his few worldly possessions in a Uhaul truck and drives across country to his new rather lush quarters on the Estate.

Du Pont had wanted both of the Shultz brothers to lead his new team, but when Mark failed to persuade Dave to join him, du Pont lavished all his attention on just Mark. The new training facilities pay off, and three months later Mark won a Gold Medal at the World Games and schizophrenic du Pont started to treat the young athlete more like a son whenever he was in a good mood. Up to this point Shultz had kept to his highly disciplined routine which excluded things like alcohol but pressured by du Pont he tried and liked recreational drugs which would eventually lead to the decline in the two men’s relationships.

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Director Bennett Miller shows that du Pont clearly gets off on physical contact with Shultz when the two men attempt to wrestle (du Pont misguidedly thinks he also has a talent for the sport too) and leaves the implication that this may have satisfied the effete older man’s homosexual desires. However, when du Pont doesn’t get what he wants and it seems that Shultz’s new unhealthy addictions render him unable to win matches, he throws a heap of money at Dave to persuade him to come and train the Team after all.

The vain du Pont who is now underwriting the US Wrestling Team for the Seoul Olympics insists on being recognised as the official coach even though Dave Shultz is actually doing the work. Dave accepts this to a point but a now sober Mark is deeply resentful of du Pont and his power, and although he is still prepared to accept his money, he refuses to have anything do with the man who he once allowed to fawn over him. After he fails to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics, Mark finally moves out of the Foxcatcher Estate leaving his brother to face a fate that no-one could have predicted.

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Miller, working with a script by E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman, allows this excellent creepy tale to unravel at a pace that is a little too slow at times. It’s a great ‘vehicle’ for the talented comic actor Steve Carrell to show his remarkable range playing the thoroughly unpleasant du Pont, but as good as he is I don’t think he will join the list of actors who wore prosthetic noses and won an Oscar for their efforts. He was joined on screen by the great Vanessa Redgrave who had a very tiny lame role as the mother; Channing Tatum as Mark which was at least a role that suited his expressionless style of acting; and Mark Ruffalo who was totally superb as a beefed up Dave.

P.S. Back to the question of du Pont’s sexuality that Miller throws us so many clues about, from him waking up a near-naked Shultz after midnight to give him a book (!), to his insistence on demonstrating intimate crutch grabbing wrestling moves that he wasn’t trained to do, to the sight of his horrified mother watching her effeminate son getting ‘low’ on the mat etc. To a gay audience this will undoubtedly appear as a classic case of a rich older effete man chasing a big dumb blond sports jock: known as a ‘chicken hawk’: not too dissimilar to ‘foxcatcher’.

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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