Foxcatcher, the gripping story of two wrestling brothers and their wealthy would-be mentor, comes to the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center this weekend. Directed by Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher is based on the true story of Olympic gold medal winners Mark and David Schultz and their relationship with multimillionaire John du Pont.
Unlike many sports films, Foxcatcher makes wrestling the backdrop for an intense study of far more complex issues, like the controlling power of wealth and the nature of male camaraderie and familial relationships. The film opens with a capsule life of Mark Schultz, who won a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Los Angeles, played by Channing Tatum. In the aftermath of his Olympic success, Mark leads a solitary, sad-sack existence — working out, living on a diet of ramen noodles and occasionally giving pep talks to high school students. Trapped in his musclebound body as if it were a cage, Mark depends emotionally on his older, more easygoing, gregarious brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo.
While Mark remains damaged by his unhappy blue-collar childhood, David acts as his protector and father figure. David’s more normal life includes his wife Nancy, played by Sienna Miller, and his two children, in addition to his wrestling career, while Mark remains obsessed by the need for success as a wrestler.
More than any other sport, wrestling suggests an erotic-tinged intimacy underlying the action between two competitors. The director, also responsible for Capote and Moneyball, explores in Foxcatcher the relationship between the two brothers through close-up scenes of their workouts. Once this sporting world is established, it is turned sideways by the appearance of multimillionaire John du Pont, himself a would-be wrestler, who uses his money and influence to set up a training center for wrestlers at his Pennsylvania estate. As portrayed by comedian Steve Carell wearing a prosthetic nose, du Pont is a stunningly awkward eccentric who entices Mark, along with a group of other wrestlers, to live on his estate and train for the upcoming Seoul Olympics. With his proboscis perpetually in the air and his halting speech patterns, du Pont proves even more isolated than Mark. Vanessa Redgrave, playing du Pont’s disapproving mother who raises horses and dismisses her son’s wrestling as a “low” sport, fleshes out the intricacies of du Pont’s psyche.
Once du Pont replaces David as his brother Mark’s mentor, the more corrupting aspects of the relationship emerge. The millionaire introduces Mark to cocaine, and trains him to give speeches describing du Pont as his hero. Eventually du Pont transfers his obsessions to David, and persuades him to move his family to the du Pont estate. From there, the situation spirals out of control and into disturbing and destructive behaviors. Foxcatcher’s shocking finale brings into the foreground the dark undertones of a story that can only be described as heartbreaking. Mr. Miller’s capable direction, combined with accomplished and nuanced acting by all three of the principals, has created an exceptionally strong film.
Foxcatcher, Friday, Jan. 16, and Saturday, Jan. 17, 7:30 pm.; Sunday, Jan. 18, 4 pm. For tickets and information, visit mvfilmsociety.com.