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Movie Night – 'Foxcatcher' joins trend of movies based on true stories (Feb. 4, 2015 issue)

Movies based on true stories are a hot commodity in Hollywood. Along with movies about superheroes and sequels, movies with some modicum of truth to them are trending at the theater. “Foxcatcher” is a little different than most movies based on true stories due to the fact that the true story behind the movie is not well known.
Like most people, I had never heard of Foxcatcher Wrestling, Mark Schultz, or John du Pont before I saw the first trailer for “Foxcatcher.” So while it’s based on a true story, the entire story and characters were an unknown as I stepped into the theater.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) are championship wrestlers. The brothers each won a gold medal in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and are training for the world championships and the next Olympics. Despite his own success, Mark has spent most of his life in the shadow of his older brother. On the flip side, without Dave there to guide him and coach him Mark may have never reached his full potential.
Mark is offered what he believes to be the opportunity of a lifetime by John du Pont (Steve Carell). John is an heir to the du Pont family fortune. In the mid-1980s the du Pont family was the richest family in America. John flies Mark to the family estate in Pennsylvania for a meeting. The estate is called Foxcatcher Farms and the wrestling team that John wants Mark to join is Foxcatcher Wrestling.
John offers Mark a salary while he trains at a state-of-the-art facility. John also wants Dave to join him at Foxcatcher. The decision to accept the offer is a no-brainer to Mark. The first problem arises when Dave tells Mark he can’t go with him to Foxcatcher Wrestling. Mark has a family and a job and refuses to uproot his family to move to Pennsylvania.
Mark makes the journey on his own. He seems lost at first, alone in a strange place, but John quickly becomes a mentor to him, a father figure even. Mark couldn’t know the demons that haunt John, nor the disastrous consequences that would come from his decision to train at Foxcatcher Wrestling.
The first thing that stands out about the movie is that it’s very strange. The mood of the movie is somber and has a vague sense of foreboding throughout. At any moment you expect something bad to happen, yet you will be disappointed if you are expecting a lot of action or even a lot of drama. I have no idea how closely the film follows the true story, but I can say that the pace of the movie was a little slow. It needed more confrontations, more mystery, more something.
The acting in the movie is top-notch. Steve Carell is very good as the enigmatic John du Pont. Carell wears a prosthetic nose and teeth and uses them to his advantage as he plays the eerie and creepy John du Pont. More than anything else, the movie is a story of a man whose jealousy and need for the approval of his mother drives him slowly but inexorably to madness. While I still prefer Carell as the lovable goofball that he usually plays, I was pleasantly surprised at his performance.
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo transformed themselves into wrestlers for their parts. Tatum may not have had to amp up his exercise routine very much to reach a wrestler’s body, but Ruffalo is in what appears to be the best shape of his life as Dave Schultz.
Both actors changed how they walked and interacted with others in a way that I can only assume matches that of most wrestlers. Tatum played Mark Schultz as a simple and simple-minded man while Ruffalo’s Dave Schultz was the caring and protective older brother.
Despite the very good performances of the lead actors, “Foxcatcher” as a whole was an average movie. I expected more drama and less weirdness, a plot twist would have been nice.
Grade: B
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.