The Olympics Go Hollywood: Foxcatcher

FINALLY. Foxcatcher was released on November 14th but only in select cities, and over a month later it finally made its way to one theater in Colorado Springs. So on Christmas Eve, I decided to be the ultimate Jewish stereotype and see a movie before getting Chinese food for dinner. :)

Foxcatcher is the story of Mark Schultz, a wrestler who competed at the 1984 and 1988 Olympics. After '84, he's in a pretty bad place and ends up moving onto the Foxcatcher Farms estate to train under John du Pont, a mentally unstable sociopath. Entwined with Mark's story is that of his brother Dave, also an Olympic wrestler, who eventually comes to live at Foxcatcher as well.

The movie was released at the same time as Mark's autobiography and is essentially based on the book. Though I haven't read it, I've been familiar with Dave's story for the better part of a year now. At my last job with the USOC, one of my tasks was to post our video content to; one of the videos I posted was about Dave, and as I'd never heard of him before I decided to watch it. Let me tell you, I almost fell off my chair when I learned about his story.

So if you watch that video, that's most of the background info I had going in. I'd read reviews of the film here and there, so I knew a little bit more, but not too much. Either way, I went in knowing that this was not going to be a feel-good movie. I knew I'd probably be super creeped out and maybe a teensy bit traumatized.

Boy, did I hit THAT nail on the head. (This is going to be long, because WOW do I have a lot of feelings.)

Let me start off by saying that Foxcatcher is incredibly well done, in all aspects. It was a little bit slow at times, but everything was really on point. I had read various criticisms that some of the details weren't correct and that the timeline was slightly off, but as someone who didn't have an intimate knowledge of the details nor the timeline, nothing the movie did felt wrong or strange. I did know that the very end of the movie skipped ahead almost eight years in the blink of an eye and didn't indicate that at all, but I don't think that harmed the integrity of the story. The timing of that final event was fairly irrelevant.

The actors' transformations were absolutely mind-blowing. I didn't see Mark Ruffalo on screen; he WAS Dave Schultz. Steve Carrell was phenomenal as John du Pont, and I was really surprised at how convincing Channing Tatum was as Mark Schultz.

Real (left) vs. fiction (right). Check out the image source for more side-by-side comparisons. It's crazy.

I was also amazed by the sound design, which sounds really snooty and isn't something I ever thought I'd say... But this was a very quiet film. There was a whole lot of silence, and a lot of information was conveyed nonverbally or through very few words. The score was also incredibly fitting; on one hand it sounded innocent, but on the other it was dark and ominous. So when the score faded away into silence -- wow. It was powerful. And CREEPY. The movie starts off with old, grainy footage (that I think was actual footage of the du Ponts at Foxcatcher in the '20s or '30s) set to this sinister music. It was a great way to set everything up; horseback riding and groups of dogs and high society all look nice, but there was this decidedly menacing undertone.

In terms of the story, I was surprised at how it didn't really portray Mark as a hero. He was incredibly flawed, and you got the feeling that he was his own worst enemy. He had a knack for making bad choices; he had very low self-confidence and self-worth; and he managed to sabotage his own success every single time. He wasn't a bad guy, so I was rooting for him to just make better decisions and think more highly of himself! It was almost painful to watch du Pont take him under his wing, because he knew the exact things to say to get Mark's loyalty; "the great Mark Schultz" and "you're more than Dave Schultz's younger brother," etc. Mark was an easy target. Dave, on the other hand, was the far more sympathetic character even though he had far less screen time. He was popular, happily married with two kids, successful, a beautifully caring person, and on and on and on. I spent most of the movie wanting to see more of Dave, which is, sadly, kind of fitting. A huge source of angst in Mark's life was Dave's shadow, and how everyone shunted him aside because of how beloved Dave was. I felt vaguely guilty that I was doing that very thing.

(Note: the following contains spoilers, so if you want to read the book or see the movie without knowing what happens, don't continue! But if you watched the video embedded up top, you already know what happens.)

I appreciated how guns were a running theme throughout the movie. John du Pont ordered himself what looked like a tank, and flat-out refused to accept it because it wasn't equipped with a machine gun. He brought a handgun into the gym at one point, and fired at the ceiling for no real reason. There was a scene with du Pont shooting target practice with police officers, and there was a very poignant moment that was just a close-up of his face with the sound of gunfire in the background. Great foreshadowing. Another running theme? Foxcatcher was in Valley Forge. So there was a pretty heartbreaking juxtaposition of the estate with the shadow of thousands of deaths. Soldiers died there while fighting for their country, and Dave died there having also fought for his country (as an Olympian).

When it came to Dave's death, even though I knew it was coming, I felt physically ill waiting for it and then watching it happen. His murder was so pointless, and the whole movie was spent making you fall in love with him... so watching him die the way he did was absolutely devastating. I'm still pretty crushed.

My biggest complaint about the movie is how it ended: Dave was killed, Mark was shown doing some MMA fighting, and that was it. Dave and Mark's relationship was such a huge part of the movie, and I felt cheated that we never got to see Mark's reaction to Dave's death. It's like there were five minutes of film that were chopped off at the end. There was no real resolution, and I left the theater still reeling from Dave's death. (So hey, maybe that's the point.)

Long story short: it's an amazing movie, you should definitely go see it, but don't expect any warm-fuzzies!

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