Foxcatcher is based on the lurid true story of the dysfunctional relationship between John E. du Pont and Olympic gold medal wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz — a chilling, truly creepy tale that is stranger than fiction.
An unrecognizable Steve Carrell plays the eccentric philanthropist John E. du Pont, heir to one of America’s greatest fortunes. Du Pont, a wrestling enthusiast, asks Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (an outstanding Channing Tatum) to move onto his family estate, form a team and train for the World Championships and the Seoul Olympics. The offer is a godsend to Mark who is struggling to make ends meet and trying to move out from the shadow of his more accomplished and charismatic older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo).
Du Pont is a mentally unstable, but much of his strange, controlling behavior seems like the foibles of the aristocracy, and Mark, who is a bit lost, needs someone to look up to, someone to lean on. Du Pont eventually manages to rope Dave into his plans as well, much to Mark’s chagrin. But Dave is much less pliable than Mark, and almost immediately rubs the wrong way against du Pont.
The director, Bennett Miller, paces the film perfectly and elicited outstanding performances from the actors. There is a scene near the beginning where the brothers wrestle, and without saying a word, they convey all the emotions that are roiling beneath the surface of their sibling rivalry.
On its face, Foxcatcher is about the destruction wrought by a wealthy narcissist who had been indulged and kowtowed to his entire life, but it is really about family and the struggle to become an individual. Mark Schultz wanted to be more than Dave Schultz’s little brother, and John du Pont was desperate to move out from under the thumb of his domineering mother (played by a positively arctic Vanessa Redgrave). There was something dark and dangerous inside both men, and it is the control of people they love but wish to escape (not unfairly, mind you) that is keeping them in check. Miller perfectly captures this seething, suffocating resentment, and tonally, Foxcatcher gets it exactly right. The ending is even more shocking when it sinks in that it (or something very like it) actually happened.