When the leaves turn from green to orange, the red carpets begin to roll out in Hollywood, signaling the beginning of the show business awards season. Among the candidates grappling for Oscars this year comes Foxcatcher, the story of one of the most bizarre crimes of our generation.
The movie, which coincides with Mark Schultz’s new book Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold (Dutton Adult, 2014) is set amidst the worlds of amateur wrestling and the lavishly wealthy. The film will certainly be a heavyweight contender at the Academy Awards, for director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) as well as actors Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, and most notably Steve Carell, who steps out of his usual comic persona to deliver what might be the performance of a lifetime.
Foxcatcher is the story of the Schultz brothers, Mark and Dave, Olympic champions who, after their gold-medal victories, were recruited to train at a state-of-the art facility built by wealthy heir John du Pont, a prominent supporter of amateur sports. At the training facility (constructed on du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farms estate) the eccentric benefactor appoints himself head coach of Team Foxcatcher wrestling, and throws himself into the sport in an attempt to win the admiration of the athletic community, as well as the respect of his disapproving mother (played by Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave).
As the athletes train, du Pont’s peculiar behavior grows more and more erratic. His psychological manipulation eats away at Mark’s already shaky self-esteem and soon the increasingly unstable millionaire becomes fixated on the more self-assured Dave. Du Pont’s relationship with both brothers becomes strained until, finally, he snaps, and shoots Dave dead, in full view of Shultz’s wife and du Pont’s own head of security. After the murder, du Pont barricaded himself in his mansion and was captured after a two-day standoff with police. Described as a paranoid schizophrenic at his trial, du Pont was found guilty of third-degree murder, but mentally ill. He died in prison in 2010.
Miller’s adaptation of this brutally disturbing real-life crime saga has won the director widespread critical acclaim. “This insidiously gripping psychological drama is a model of bleak, bruising, furiously concentrated storytelling,” wrote Justin Chang in Variety. “(The film) should land with major impact among serious-minded moviegoers.”
Also drawing raves are the three actors at the movie’s heart—Ruffalo and Tatum, who play Dave and Mark Shultz, respectively—and Carell, who delivers what Tom McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter describes as a “career-changing performance” as du Pont. Film.com’s Jordan Hoffman goes so far as to summon comic icon Peter Sellers, who also found success in a classic dramatic turn. “Foxcatcher is (Carell’s) Being There, a weirdly half-comic, half-tragic role, which is especially creepy coming from someone who normally broadcasts big laughs,” Hoffman wrote.
A searingly dark examination into the twisted mind of a killer and the tragic events that unfold around him, Foxcatcher may not be light holiday fare, but it’s sure to be competing for a gold medal after the New Year, when the bell rings for Oscar’s opening round.