Film and TV

Reviews for the Easily Distracted:

Title: Foxcatcher

Is This A Sequel To That Song By Sweet? Yes. I mean, no. It refers to the racing stable on the Du Pont family's Pennsylvania estate where foxes were caught and then released unharmed into the wild. Or so I'd assume.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three-and-a-half Jimmy "Superfly" Snukas out of five.

Brief Plot Synopsis: Olympic wrestler with big brother issues moves in with multimillionaire with mommy issues. They're the original odd couple!

Tagline: "Based on the shocking true story."

Better Tagline: "The last time a rich man was convicted of anything in America."


Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Even after winning a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is having a hard time making ends meet, so when he receives an offer from John du Pont (Steve Carell) that's too good to pass up, he ... doesn't pass it up. That's exactly what worries Mark's older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who grows increasingly concerned about his brother's relationship with a man whose eccentricity seems to be giving way to something darker.

"Critical" Analysis: It's not really accurate to say I "enjoyed" Foxcatcher. Director Bennett Miller, previously peering behind the curtain at Major League Baseball (Moneyball), now takes that same demystification approach with the Olympics and explicitly shows what many of us probably assumed; that for all the "rah rah" surrounding the Games, the hunt for Olympic gold can be just as corrupt and degrading as the IOC itself.

When we first meet Mark Schultz, he's cashing a $20 check after speaking to a local elementary school, which he then spends on fast food before returning to his dingy apartment. Hardly the wine, women, and song he was probably hoping for after winning gold at Los Angeles. He's also chafing at being forced to train with his brother Dave at a local university, so John du Pont's offer of new facilities, $2,000 a month, and a chance to assemble his own Olympic team for Seoul must seem like validation, albeit unexpected, for his years of hard work.

The combination is toxic almost from the outset. Mark can't escape his brother's shadow, even as he wins the 1985 World Championships. and John -- scion of so many so-called "great" men -- broods in a trophy room filled with awards won by his mother's horses. Born to another family, his odd mannerisms and love of ornithology might have passed without notice, but his lineage compels him to aspire to greater things. In this case, "coaching" an Olympic wrestling team, ostensibly because we "failed to honor" Mark and his comrades. What a dutiful Reaganite.

We're all familiar with the old saw about bad things happening to good people. Well, the only good person here is Dave Schultz, and it's not really a spoiler to tell you how that turned out for him. Ruffalo's performance drives the heartbreak home, because we get a real feeling for how much Dave cared for his brother. He;s also convincing in showing us genuine concern for the aloof millionaire after the death of John's mother Jean (a withering Vanessa Redgrave).

But the warmth and happiness of Dave's family life is as alien to John as the older Schultz's (initial) refusal to take his money. And even Dave's understanding only goes so far. Watch the war of emotions on Ruffalo's face when a "documentary" filmmaker in du Pont's employ asks Dave to refer to John as his "mentor." It's fantastic.

Tatum's portrayal is also interesting, but not for reasons you might expect. Mark Schultz would seem to be a slam-dunk role for 2013's Sexiest Man Alive, except for the younger brother's lack of self-awareness or humor. Mark is often unsympathetic, and frustratingly so, because it's not apparent how much control he has over it. Tatum walks that line well. And people thought I was crazy for liking Magic Mike.

Of course, Carell will receive most of the accolades (and has), and maybe it's testament to his abilities, but he left me mostly cold. John du Pont clearly had mental issues, but it's hard to look past that fake nose and not see a pretty naked Oscar grab.

Then again, it worked for Nicole Kidman.

Foxcacther is in theaters today. Probably not a good double-header pairing with The World According to Garp.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar