It didn’t pick up a single Oscar on Sunday night, even though it was nominated for 5. It was, however nominated in some tough categories, and walking away from it all, I don’t think anyone sees it as being snubbed. Which is tragic. Anyway, this piece is actually a character analysis of the three main characters in Foxcatcher, played by Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell. Enjoy.
There was something about this film that grabbed my attention ever since I saw the very first trailer. I’m not sure whether it was Steve Carell’s creepy portrayal of John du Point or Channing Tatum’s formidable scowl as Mark Schultz. Please note that this review contains spoilers, so read on at your own risk…
Maybe it was the fact that I knew exactly what the film was about without really knowing where it was going; and so I wanted to see more. Who knows?
Firstly, Bennet Miller is one director who can successfully draw hugely dramatic performances out of actors who are quite often associated with more offbeat or comedic roles. He directed Jonah Hill to an Oscar nomination for Moneyball in 2011, and let’s not forget that he also directed the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, for which Hoffman won the Oscar for best actor. There’s no denying the talent and skill of this director. As a result I went in with high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
Directing aside, another stylistic feature that stood out for me in Foxcatcher, aside from the great acting; was sound. The silence in many scenes in the film is deafening. I often felt as though I couldn’t eat my popcorn in the cinema in case someone would be upset by the noise it made.
Some may disagree, but I felt as if the film was less driven by the development of the narrative, as most of the substance presented itself in the form of character development. The one exception is, of course, the relationship between du Pont and Mark Schultz, which is at the center of the entire film. With these memorable characters and notable performances in mind, let’s take a look at the key characters in more detail.
At first glance, a one-dimensional blunt instrument, we later begin to see the passion at the center of this man’s drive. He and du Pont (appear to) share similar ideals and interests: wrestling and America. Mark Schultz sees the invitation to Foxcatcher Farms as a chance to realise his dreams and develop a sustainable living as a professional wrestler.
Channing Tatum portrays Mark extremely well in that he displays emotion trough action, and facial expressions. He doesn’t always need to say much for you to understand how the character feels from scene to scene. In fact, this was necessary because of the nature of the character.
A severe pressure point for Mark is his brother David. He clearly loves and respects his brother, and some may argue that his brother’s coaching was the only way he could make something of himself as a professional wrestler (something that’s hinted at quite a lot during the film); but it is this very fact that drives a rift between him and his brother.
I’m not sure if this was to protect the legacy of the man, or if he was that way by nature, but David Schultz is portrayed as quite a good guy in Foxcatcher. He is a family man, he is his brother’s keeper, and he is stronger than his brother in many different ways.
In fact, it’s his denial of du Pont as an almighty figure of father, coach and mentor (something that Mark was unable to do) that ultimately leads to du Point killing David.
He is the ultimate good guy, but also a very real person, not willing to sell himself out to praise the undeserving du Pont. What makes David a complex character is how he navigates the rough currents between the erratic personalities (and moods) of his brother, Mark, as well as du Pont. It can be argued that his good nature makes him very predictable, and somewhat one-dimensional, but then again it’s really tough to keep someone’s dignity in place when you’re making a movie about their murder.
John du Pont
Pity. That is what I felt for John du Point. yes, he was rich and could have whatever he wanted, yes he killed a man in cold blood, and yes he was a really slimy character who forced people to do as he wanted to get his way in life; but these are all reasons to pity him, not resent him. Resenting someone like that does nothing good for anyone.
The murder of David Schultz by John du Pont seems to happen quickly, in a moment after du Pont watches the documentary about Foxcatcher Wrestling, and its partnership with American Wrestling. We know he spotted David’s lack of praise for him, his indifference; and as a result, du Pont got in a car, drove up to David’s place on his own property, and shot him in cold blood.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. du Pont is a lonely man; a man who had no friends all his life. No siblings to share experiences with; no partner to share his life with; and a mother that did nothing but frown upon everything he was passionate about.
The great danger that Foxcatcher provides narrative on, is boredom. Being at the very top of Maslow’s hierarchy may sound lovely to the man in the street, but the truth is that people there invent ways to fill the gaps in their lives that have been created by a lack of true purpose. That is the tragedy of John du Pont.
You can check out the trailer for Foxcatcher below:
About the Author: Stephen is a filmmaker and critic. Catch the latest updates from him on Twitter @thesnagel