by NEVIL GIBSON
The Du Pont name in American business goes back to the earliest days of the republic, and the estate belonging to one of its richest heirs is near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, the encampment of George Washington’s anti-British forces.
Since those days, the family has gone through many generations and the company is still an industrial giant making chemicals.
This is the background to Foxcatcher (Roadshow), named after the estate where thoroughbred horses and fox hunting still rate as the favourite activity of the super rich in America’s gentry class.
John E. Du Pont (Steve Carell) hates the horses that are the main interest of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and seeks fame in another sport, freestyle wrestling, as one outlet for his many interests, which also include ornithology and philately.
Physically, he doesn’t fit the bill: He has a prominent nose and keeps his head tilted back — all the better to look down it on the rest of humanity.
For John E. (which he thinks should stand for Eagle rather than the given Eleuthère) is not just a super patriot, but he also wants to win gold medals as justification.
He believes his wealth makes him an exception and uses it to get his own way, even in its creepier forms.
His mother finds wrestling an unsophisticated “low sport” and in a memorable scene displays
her disdain for her son’s obsession.
Worse, Du Pont doesn’t view the sport’s participants as much different from the horses he despises.
He has the money and easily persuades the cash-poor wrestling authorities he can be both benefactor and coach of the United States team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
In 1986, he recruits Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who had won a gold medal at Los Angeles four years earlier but who is struggling to retain his form. He has an older
sibling, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), the only American brothers to win both Olympic and world wrestling championships.
Their lives have diverged, with easygoing Dave happily married with a young family. Mark is the opposite: inarticulate and introverted, he is an easy catch for Du Pont’s ambitious plan, which turns distinctly nasty as the team trains in a specially built facility on the
Du Pont introduces Mark to heavy drinking and drugs, causing his athleticism to deteriorate. The more capable Dave is persuaded to take on the team’s main coaching burden.
This pits the two brothers against each other while du Pont tries to hold to his eccentric vision.
This is compelling stuff and all the more absorbing because it is based on true events that end in tragedy in 1996.
Director Bennett Miller is well served by his cast, especially Carell in a straight role, and the script (Max Frye and Dan Futterman).
Miller previously directed the excellent Moneyball, another based-on-fact story set in the
world of baseball (2011).
That was impressive enough, but Foxcatcher is better. The pity is that its background in an obscure sport will prevent it being seen by the much larger audience that it deserves.
Rating: Mature audiences (drug use and violence); 134 minutes.