'Foxcatcher': Wrestlers caught in web of warped wealth

Tom Long
The Detroit News

There's an air of entitled emptiness at the heart of "Foxcatcher," a sad sense of the sort of isolation and delusion only the filthy rich might achieve.

It is at once pathetic and pitiful and makes for cringe-inducing drama as the real-life John du Pont (played with pointed restraint by Steve Carell) constructs a paper persona for his empty self. Born into ridiculous wealth, du Pont actually has nothing and thus feels compelled to market himself as Mr. Everything — ornithologist, philanthropist and ... wrestling coach.

In truth, du Pont knows nothing about wrestling and turns out to be a dead fish when he actually ventures out on the mat for a (fixed) match. But du Pont realizes that even the best wrestlers need sponsors and this is a world in which he can insert his generally useless self.

So he pursues the Schultz brothers, Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo), both gold medal winners at the 1984 Olympics. Dave has a stable life as a coach, but Mark has been reduced to giving paid pep talks at elementary schools to scrounge up some cash while he trains for the 1988 games in Seoul.

Enter du Pont, who proposes to pay the brothers to come train at his palatial estate, with him acting as their coach. Dave, who has a wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, declines, but the desperate and somewhat dim-witted Mark jumps at the proposition. Soon he has a house of his own on du Pont's extensive property and is training with other top-notch wrestlers in du Pont's gym.

Mark and du Pont develop a father-son bond, with Mark unable or unwilling to see du Pont's emptiness. Even though du Pont has nothing to teach the wrestlers, he calls himself their coach, then gives himself the nickname "Eagle" or "Golden Eagle" — this guy's such a loser he can't even pinpoint his own false nickname.

Of course, a training regimen with a noncoach does Mark no good. Pretty soon du Pont has introduced him to the joys of cocaine and Mark is downing beers on days he should be working out. Mark becomes a pet of sorts to du Pont, a monkey he can trot out to impress his snobbish peers and boost his credentials as a man's man.

Eventually Dave is lured to the du Pont mansion and, even though he can sense the silliness behind the man, he succumbs to the comforts and becomes the wrestlers' real coach. And even the twisted millionaire can sense his own uselessness.

Director Bennett Miller ("Capote," "Moneyball") has a fascinating story here and he knows it. He also has some fine actors, with Tatum playing Mark as tight-lipped and confused while the warmth and wisdom of Ruffalo's Dave fairly fills the screen.

What Miller and the movie are missing, though, is any clear explanation or dramatic build-up to the story's final dark turn. Yes, bad things happen to good people, but there's usually some reason, no matter how warped, pushing things forward. Miller doesn't even try to explain what happens, it just happens.

Which somewhat undercuts an otherwise compelling story. "Foxcatcher" assures its audience that the rich are just as spoiled, empty and useless as the nonrich hope they are, then tosses in evil for good (or bad) measure. The rich are, indeed, different from the rest of us, it says — and the rest of us should be thankful.





Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence

Running time: 134 minutes

"Foxcatcher" (R ) The true story of wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell), who entices Olympic medal winning brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz to come train at his estate. A portrait of the pathetic rich. (134 minutes) GRADE: B