Movie review: Patriotism is the last refuge of a fanatic in Foxcatcher | Film Review | Indy Week
Pin It

Movie review: Patriotism is the last refuge of a fanatic in Foxcatcher 

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher

Photo Scott Garfield / Courtesy Sony Pictures Classics

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher

Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson famously said. In director Bennett Miller's FOXCATCHER, based on a true story, that indictment applies to an egotistical, elitist eccentric named John E. du Pont.

Although his inherited fortune originated in ammunitions dealings, du Pont (portrayed with reptilian eeriness by Steve Carell) identifies himself as an "ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist." He tries to peddle the latter role as altruism in the service of his country. Instead of his real middle name, Eleuthère, he introduces himself on several occasions as John "Eagle" du Pont, and is announced before speaking engagements as the "Golden Eagle of America."

Taking 1984 Olympic gold medal champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, sublimely understated) and the rest of the USA Wrestling team under his wealthy wing, du Pont starts a wrestling camp on his family's titular Pennsylvania estate, situated just beyond the horizon of Valley Forge. There, he presides over the team like a lanista lording over his gladiators.

Before being lured into du Pont's orbit, Mark lives on a diet of ramen noodles in a ramshackle apartment in Wisconsin. He parlays his gold medal into $20 speaking engagements at elementary schools, paid with checks administrators reluctantly cut after they discover that Mark isn't his more popular older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic champion.

At first blush, Foxcatcher conjures a fractured American dream: Mark, the unappreciated and discarded patriot, and du Pont, the wealthy parasite preying on the 99 percent to inflate his social standing and self-importance. But that only scratches the surface of what is, at its essence, a study of human frailty and obsession.

Du Pont's stable of wrestlers is his answer to the sport horses owned by his domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who views wrestling as a "low sport." Their conversations involve such tedium as which trophies are worthy of the "Rosemont Room." Du Pont recounts how his mother paid her chauffeur's son to be du Pont's only childhood friend. With his taxidermy collection, mommy issues and other lurking demons, he resembles a blue-blooded Norman Bates.

Meanwhile, the relationship between Mark and Dave—who acts as Mark's trainer—is established early on during a tense morning training session, which captures Mark's jealousy and Dave's brotherly love without a word of dialogue. Mark admires his brother, but at the same time, he is deeply envious of Dave's personal and professional success.

Mark and du Pont see each other as surrogate siblings, or even as replacement father and son. There are also homoerotic undertones. Nevertheless, their deep personal bond eventually runs up against their caste differences, and when du Pont finally entices Dave to head Team Foxcatcher in Mark's stead, it triggers an ultimately tragic downward spiral.

The film is part reportage, part melodrama, and its Jungian archetypes stand out in sharp relief against a nationalistic backdrop, aided by the trio of terrific lead performances. The chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" filling the final frame are a cruelly ironic punchline: patriotism as the last refuge of the fanatic.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Far from haven"

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in Film Review



Twitter Activity

Comments

I'd be more interested with different actors, but at least it's not a fucking super hero movie or squequel, so …

by terryboo on H.P. Lovecraft Meets Art House Cinema in the Odd, Ominous A Ghost Story (Film Review)

Spiderman homecoming is the best spider man movie that I have seen yet https://goo.gl/jhKahk

by Hazel Gomez on Spider-Man: Homecoming Makes a Fifty-Five-Year-Old Hero Feel Like a Kid Again (Film Review)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

I'd be more interested with different actors, but at least it's not a fucking super hero movie or squequel, so …

by terryboo on H.P. Lovecraft Meets Art House Cinema in the Odd, Ominous A Ghost Story (Film Review)

Spiderman homecoming is the best spider man movie that I have seen yet https://goo.gl/jhKahk

by Hazel Gomez on Spider-Man: Homecoming Makes a Fifty-Five-Year-Old Hero Feel Like a Kid Again (Film Review)

I was born and raised in Bertie County, and believe me, this was painful and beautiful to watch. I was …

by Tar Heels forever on Know More About Manhattan Than Your Embattled Neighbors in Rural North Carolina? Then See Raising Bertie. (Film Review)

Clint's film is trashy? maybe that's why all of us pigs would like to wallow in it.

by Jovana Dimitrijevic on In Her Remake of Clint Eastwood's Lurid, Trashy The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola Probes Deeper Rhythms (Film Review)

Thanks for spoiling the movie. Just because you didn't like it doesn't mean you have to ruin it for everyone …

by Carly L. on The Book of Henry Is a Blatant Tearjerker Whose Elaborate Plot Serves a Useless Solution (Film Review)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation