October 15, 2018

Cannes Film Festival: Foxcatcher review – another ‘inspired by a true story’ #cannes2014

It would be fun to open a cricket facility, training the top English cricketers for Ashes glory. I don't have any coaching qualifications, but I have watched so much cricket on TV that I now have lots of wisdom to dispense. Luckily for English cricket I don't yet have the ready money to build the sports ground or to entice the sportsmen to come and listen to me pontificating about cricketing skills I don't have myself.

Unfortunately for American wrestling in the Eighties, John du Pont had a similar idea and the money to make it happen. Giving $10,000 to an athlete here, $500,000 to a wrestling federation there he managed to bring an Olympic Champion to his private training gym and buy his way into the USA Wrestling coaching set up.

Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller, is based on a true story. The title doesn't make it clear, but this is the next film in the Cannes 2014 biopic extravaganza. Today's subject: ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist, John du Pont. With David and Mark Schultz – Olympic wrestlers – taking care of the action whilst bringing out the character flaws of the billionaire.

The 1988 Seoul Olympics is quickly set up as the film's destination. The brothers Schultz had both won gold medals in LA in 1984. A couple of years later David appears to have moved into coaching but Mark is training for the upcoming world championships.

This draws the attention of John du Pont, in his philanthropic capacity, aiming to make things better for Mark and David, wrestling and America. Mark quickly accepts his offer of pay and training facilities, forgetting that philanthropism so often means I still want a reward, I just don't need money.

Along with training at the Foxcatcher estate Mark ends up in a strange relationship with du Pont, who is surreptitiously searching for – in no particular order – a surrogate son, a wrestling career of his own, maternal approval, a chance to play 'leader of men', adoration and the title 'coach'. (Although when you get to know him he doesn't mind being called Eagle or Golden Eagle as well).

Foxcatcher spends a few years with a man who starts mentally ill and ends mentally iller. Wrestling is the ostensible subject, but really it is the corrupting power of too much cash. Du Pont has the money to indulge his whims whilst Mark has the lack of money that makes the peculiar arrangement seem a good idea.

Acting is mostly done by the tilt of a head. Channing Tatum's Mark looks nervously floorward, at least until unorthodox nasally-taken supplements start altering his outlook and he neglects his training. Steve Caroll's du Pont lives with his head angled back and looks at the world along his reinforced nose. Carroll makes the billionaire a small man, enveloped by any chair he sits in. With someone else to speak for him he sits mute in meetings hearing his desires spoken by minions. Today he will do anything for Shultz, tomorrow he's ignoring him, slapping him, or forcing him to make speeches calling du Pont the father he never had and extolling his virtues. It is a successful portrayal of an ineffectual desire to be someone and his misplaced efforts to fill the emptiness are painfully apparent.

Mark's brother David, played with black beard and a forgiving nature by Mark Ruffalo does not fall for du Pont's money so easily. Eventually though he too is dragged to Foxcatcher to join the wrestling farm. Where Mark has no one else, David has a family and a different perspective. He is able to keep a distance from moneybags, which eventually doesn't go down well.

Making a film is not easy and getting it distributed is even harder. Why was someone desperate to see this story at the cinema? Quickly told as an anecdote it would have a vague interest, but it leans more to killing time than entertainment and teaches little except don't accept gifts from rich men. Maybe that's a good lesson to learn.

THREE STARS

 

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