In 1926, F. Scott Fitzgerald published a short story called The Rich Boy in which he famously wrote, “Let me tell you about the rich. They are different from you and me.” It was 10 years later that Fitzgerald’s literary peer and onetime friend Ernest Hemingway answered the point sardonically in his own writing with, “Yes, they have more money.” While he was at it, Hemingway also wrote that the rich were “dull and repetitious.” Each writer’s point of view has stood the test of time if director Bennett Miller’s scathing Foxcatcher is any indication of truth as regards the moneyed classes.
Foxcatcher is the “based on true events” story of du Pont family heir and diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont, who bought his way into Olympic sports in the 1980s by building a private training facility and inviting 1984 Olympic gold medalists and brothers Mark and Dave Schultz to join Team Foxcatcher, du Pont’s privately funded wrestling organization. Named after the du Pont family’s lavish 800-acre Foxcatcher Farm estate in Eastern Pennsylvania, the team would train the country’s best for competition at the 1987 World Wrestling Championships and the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul.
John du Pont also hoped Team Foxcatcher would legitimize him as a patriot, leader and mentor to heroic athletes who in reality only needed his financial support. But reality was not du Pont’s strong suit, and the resulting disconnect ran deep. Foxcatcher imagines the complex and deteriorating relationships among du Pont, Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz as real-life events spiral out of control, leading to murder and incarceration. An artful but austere character study, the film is elevated by an astounding dramatic performance from comic actor and The Daily Show with John Stewart alumnus Steve Carell as du Pont.
With his prosthetic nose and soft-spoken, to-the-manor-born demeanor, Carell is positively spooky in the challenging central role. He made it his mission to bare the dark soul of the psychologically scarred du Pont, a grown man still longing to win the approval of his distant mother Jean du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave). As if spurred by Carell’s slow-burn performance, Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum also deliver the best work of their lives as the affable, easygoing Dave Schultz and his troubled younger brother Mark. They trained for months to make the film’s wrestling scenes as brutally authentic as possible. Both Carell and Ruffalo richly deserve the Oscar nominations they earned for Foxcatcher.
With his award-winning films Capote, Moneyball and now Foxcatcher, Miller has made a specialty of revealing elusive truths about real-life characters through finely crafted fictionalizations. Miller undertook an eight-year process to bring Foxcatcher to the screen, approaching his subject as a journalist would by interviewing those closest to the film’s three principal characters and amassing a trove of original research. But his target was the kind of human insight found in art, not journalism. The rich may be different from you and me but they’re flesh and blood all the same.
Foxcatcher opens today, Jan. 16, at the Elmwood Palace and Canal Place theaters.