Front Row at the Movies
“Foxcatcher” Tells About
What Money Can’t Buy
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Here’s a true story to wrestle with: An odd and reclusive millionaire builds a 14,000-square-foot private training center for wrestlers in Pennsylvania. He recruits two brothers who are Olympic champions, inviting them to become part of his team and live on the 800-acre family estate. Later, in a fit of madness, he shoots one of the brothers to death.
You saw the aftermath on the six o’clock news -- more than 75 Philadelphia policemen laying siege for two days outside the mansion at Foxcatcher Farms while negotiating by telephone with John Eleuthère du Pont to surrender.
Yes, that du Pont family. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company (or DuPont as it is commonly known) remains one of the world’s largest chemical companies. It invented nylon, Mylar, Spandex, Teflon, neoprene, Tyvek, Freon, a number of genetically modified foods, synthetic paints, and such. Its $36-billion annual revenues make it the 8th largest chemical company.
As one of the heirs, John du Pont was worth about $200 million.
John was also a bit of a cuckoo. Maybe because of all the arranged marriages between cousins in the 19th Century, a way of keeping the wealth within the family. He was interested in birdwatching, stamp collecting, and seashells. An active philanthropist, he founded the Delaware Museum of Natural History.
John was also interested in sports, particularly wrestling. This in spite of his mother’s opinion that it was a “low” sport. He poured large sums into training Olympic wrestlers.
Two such wrestlers were Mark and David Schultz. Mark was an Olympic and two-time World champion freestyle wrestler. His older brother David was a seven-time World and Olympic medalist. For the most part, they lived on the du Pont estate. David coached upcoming wrestlers for du Pont’s showy Team Foxcatcher.
Then Mark left the estate. And David drew closer to his wife and children. Du Pont felt abandoned.
Nobody’s quite sure why John du Pont shot David Schultz. The millionaire said, “Do you have a problem with me?” before pulling the trigger.
Now there’s a new movie called “Foxcatcher.” It tells the story about those events that led up to John du Pont being found “guilty but mentally ill” and sentenced to 30 years in prison. He died there.
“Foxcatcher” is currently showing at Tropic Cinema. In it, Steve Carell portrays John du Pont. Channing Tatum is cast as Mark. And Mark Ruffalo plays David. Vanessa Redgrave is du Pont’s disapproving mum.
The movie is up for five Academy Awards. Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) has been nominated as Best Director. Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye were listed for Best Writing -- Original Screenplay. The movie even got a nod for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. And Mark Ruffalo got a nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
But it’s oft-times comedian Steve Carell’s serious turn as John Eleuthère du Pont that you want to watch. He was nominated as Best Actor. While he may not win due to steep competition from Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Imitation Game”) and Eddie Redmayne (“The Theory of Everything”), not to mention Michael Keaton (“Birdman”) and Bradley Cooper (“American Sniper”), his is a career re-defining performance.
Carell captures the lurking madness of John du Pont with his chin-forward, squinty-eyed, shuffling-gait, and halting-speech persona. That, and a set of false teeth combined with a prosthetic nose. After watching the movie, Carell’s wife said, “I didn’t see you.”
“My wife was the best person to have said what she did because she knows me better than anyone,” chuckles Carell. “And I guess it’s a good thing too because that’s not who I want to be around the house. If she saw elements of that person sleeping in bed next to her, we might have a problem.”
You know Carell from his “40-Year-Old Virgin” movie and stint on “The Office.” He is very likeable. John du Pont was just the opposite, “arrogant, odd, socially inept … a man who repelled people.” And at his core dangerous.
Du Pont is said to be the richest American ever tried for murder. He was a man who thought he could buy anything and anyone. But when he couldn’t buy the Schultz brothers, he snapped.
As Steve Carell sums it up, “It’s always sad when someone wants something they’re just not capable of having.”