REVIEW: Foxcatcher Motivations Unclear

Foxcatcher is one of the oddest movies I’ve seen in a while. For most of its two hours and 15 minute running time (too long), it crawls along at a snail’s pace and is just creepy and compelling enough to think it might be building to something. However, it never really does. There is finally a culmination point, but it seems out of the blue and the motivation is largely unclear.

Granted, the real life motivation of multimillionaire John duPont is unknown. But if you’re going to make a movie about him, please speculate a little. If we want to read the cold, hard facts, there are numerous, faster ways to do that. I’m not against ambiguity in a movie so I can draw my own conclusions, but I need at least a single thread to grab onto.

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Why exactly does the eccentric man (Steve Carell) summon gold medal wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to his Pennsylvania estate and offer to sponsor his training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics? He feeds him a line about winning back America’s pride and making him a champion. So then why does he ruin him with alcohol and drugs, then blame him for slacking on his workouts?

Carell plays duPont with a sinister vibe. At first I thought it was going to be a gay thing, but other than wrestling around with the guys a couple times, that doesn’t come to fruition. Then I thought he was going to set up Schultz for a crime; that never happens. Then I thought he was doing it to impress his dying mother, but she loathes the sport of wrestling, so maybe it was simply to torment her.

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What exactly happens to make Schultz eventually hate his benefactor so much? It seems there’s a scene missing that would explain how their relationship collapsed so hard and so fast. Perhaps there is information shared with his brother, David (Mark Ruffalo) that is not shared with us. Always overshadowed by him, duPont offers Mark the chance to branch out, but ultimately brings them together.

If the script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (Capote) is too vague, and the direction by Bennett Miller (Moneyball) is too evenly paced, that only leaves the performances of the actors to salvage the movie. They’re fascinating and evoke a mood, but again don’t provide any clues toward the characters’ motivation. None of it builds, which means there can’t be a satisfying conclusion. Or movie.

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