I just left the movie theater in downtown Chicago after an advanced screening of Foxcatcher. Afterwards I experienced a special Q + A with director, Bennettt Miller. I have been a fan of Miller’s work since seeing his extraordinary films Capote and Moneyball. But this film takes a different approach as it travels through the sullen mind of John du Pont (Steve Carell), the wealthy heir of the famous American chemical company, and then observing the murderous downfall of Mr. du Pont. This film is based on a true story that has an extraordinary ensemble who work very well together, and in a medium that the audience has not yet seen. Channing Tatum (Mark) and Mark Ruffalo (Dave) play the famous Schultz brothers, the world renowned wrestlers that are training for the next Olympic Games. David Schultz was already an established wrestler that had a gold medal under his belt, but his younger brother Mark was trying to live up to his brothers success and bring the Olympic Gold back home. Throughout the duration of the film we see a complete one-eighty from a few of the characters which leads to some unlikely circumstances that break a once loved relationship into an aphotic memory. This film was heavily saturated with dreary undertones, has a chilling score, and one of the best performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo to date.
I went into the theater with little research on the backstory of John du Pont, and from the few trailers I saw I knew this film would be a somber road trip to the Du Pont farm, with no escape route. This desolate du Pont estate was nestled away in the fog of the old Revolutionary War battlefields. The setting gave the film a chilling consciousness and clearly influenced John and his schizophrenic delusions. His master plan was to train an Olympic gold medal wrestling team, which consisted of doing anything at all costs to make it happen. With his persistent nature he put a team together of the worlds best to make his dreams become a reality. Mr. du Pont found comfort in Mark Schultz and saw him as a son more than a wrestler, and his manipulative ways split Dave and Mark apart. In the beginning Mark was scouted out by John du Pont and escorted by a helicopter that really portrayed the du Pont wealth and power back in the late 80’s. Dave was not overly enthused with John du Pont and his younger brother’s rash decision to move out to his farm to train for the American wrestling team. At that time of his life Mark was looking to do anything, and to surpass his older brother’s legacy. The idiosyncratic and stringent personality of John starts to rub off on Mark and that directs him further into his own solitary confinement. Bennettt Miller has a way of making you feel the emotions of the characters in his films, and I started to feel a sense of uneasiness throughout. The cinematography was quite preeminent in the way that the greys, whites, and blacks of the scenery were also present in the haggard characteristics of the lead actors. It felt like the film could have been filmed in Fargo or Seattle with the overcast weather effecting the direct atmosphere surrounding the movie’s premise.
Certain aspects of the film seem to revolve around the twisted mind of John du Pont and how he used his wealth to get whatever he wanted. Like most nutcases we have seen or read about over the years they seem to always have mommy issues. Du Pont had characteristics similar to Norman Bates and Michael Myers with his pale complexion, emotionless eyes, and malicious intent. With having such internal issues and doing anything to get the acceptance from his uninterested mother, this caused normal activities to go out the window, and relinquish all sanity.
The only form of emotion we see on John’s face is during a victory celebration, and a few glasses of champagne deep leads to many questionable actions that display his “close” relationship with his team. As we reached the final stages of the film I was on the edge of my seat trying to decipher how this would all play out and who would be left standing. Some questions were left unanswered and some answers will leave you flabbergasted, but this is real life, and we don’t always get a happy ending.
Bennett Miller has a directing style that hooks you in from the opening sequences and makes you want more when the credits roll. This is true with Foxcatcher and the film gives you a glimpse of power, imprisonment, and a roller coaster ride through the mind of an erratic and cocaine induced sociopath. I saw many nods to legendary directors of our time in this film including Alfred Hitchcock and the Coen Brothers, but in its own re-imagined way of depicting the rich leading the weak. I believe this may be the most important film of Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo’s careers to date. Each actor is always typecast and plays it “safe” when it comes to making choices in their movies, but this film is a complete role reversal and shows what they are capable of doing. There was little to no comedy in the movie and is as serious as you can get when it comes to a drama based on real life events. If you can transform Michael Scott into a creepy and unrecognizable wrestling coach, I think anything is possible. Each actor also underwent prosthetics and wardrobe changes to align with the actual look of the Schultz Brothers and John du Pont, which included real Schultz family members on set to make sure everything was depicted correctly. This film was darker than I ever imagined and Oscar worthy performances by the cast, director, and cinematographer. This is one of my top five favorite films of 2014 and gave the audience something different and something we needed in the cinephile world, which is the dark world that surrounds us. Wealth can lead the most normal “Joe” into dangerous and malignant behavior. I had no doubt this would be nothing short of an outstanding two hours at the Chicago Theater, and hope everyone checks this out!
Bennett Miller had many interesting stories about filming and spoke about the excruciating training that Tatum and Ruffalo had to go through for several months to get in the mind-set of the wrestler. But the most thought-provoking story was the transformation of Steve Carell into the overweight and hideous looking complexion of John du Pont. There were heavy prosthetics utilized to give Carell an almost un-recognizable appearance that sold everyone on the character from the get-go and played the character perfectly. By the ending of filming, the Foxcatcher cast were worn out physically and mentally, and wish to never go back to that dark place ever again. Miller spoke about his hatred for doing publicity for his movies and seemed quite nervous for the half hour he was taking questions, which included a lot of one-word answers. But I can’t help give the guy credit for pulling of a lot of “Grade A” celebrities into his films and literally transforming them into new roles and opening more doors for their careers. Steve Carell stole the show in this movie and when he was not on screen, you felt his presence waiting in the background. His snarl, soft, and almost crooner voice set the stage for the film early on, and played the antagonist to pure perfection. Bennett Miller also described how he got Carell in the mindset of John du Pont. He asked him to write down one thing no one knew about him and put that in his pocket while going through wardrobe, and somehow that helped bring out the character we saw on the screen.
Rated R for: Language, Drama, and Violence.
Run time: 134 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Sienna Miller.
Director: Bennett Miller
Out of 5 Nerd Skulls
Story: 4/ Acting: 4 / Directing: 4 / Visuals: 4.5
OVERALL: 4 out of 5 Nerd Skulls
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