The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



It's tempting to call Foxcatcher a horror movie. Actually, it is a horror movie, just not one where the horror comes from monsters or ghosts. What's scary about the film is the way it depicts psychological torment, and the way that can suck a person down the drain. Foxcatcher is based on a true story that made headlines back in 1996, when a multimillionaire murdered a gold medal-winning wrestler. The story rocked the nation, and a motive for the killing was never firmly established. The film attempts to posit one. Whether it's accurate or not, it's difficult to deny that the psychological underpinnings shown here are terrifying.

Channing Tatum plays Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Mark is depressed. He's got a gold medal, but still lives in a dingy apartment and eats Ramen noodles for dinner. His brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also a gold medal-winning wrestler, trains him for the next Olympics, the prospect of which seems to be the only thing keeping Mark going. One day, out of the blue, he receives a call from John du Pont (Steve Carell), a member of the wealthy chemical company family. The millionaire offers to have Mark come to his estate to train and help put together a team to take to Seoul.

Mark quickly discovers that life at Foxcatcher Farm does not live up to its promise. That's because du Pont isn't really all that interested in wrestling, per se. Instead, he's playing out his own personal psychodrama - one that involves ego, ambition, cocaine, and a simultaneous desire to please his demanding mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and exert some sort of independence from her. du Pont is seldom around, and when he is, he tends to take credit as a “coach” and “mentor,” despite the fact that all he's really done is write checks. His real goal, it seems, is to be personally associated with a gold medal in the Olympics so that he can prove his success. Eventually Dave makes his way to Foxcatcher Farm as well, and from there, things degenerate to tragic levels for all three men.

There are two ways to tell this story. One is the lurid, exploitative way, in which the drama is underlined at every turn. Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), working from a screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, wisely chooses the other way, which is through subtlety and nuance. Foxcatcher is a delicately-paced, introspective film that encourages you to read between the lines. Each man has his own personal issue going on. Mark sees his opportunity as a way to regain the glory he felt winning the gold, and therefore resents the lack of hands-on attention he got from his brother. Dave has a partial commitment to Mark, but also needs to do what's right for his family; that means staying at Foxcatcher Farm even when Mark entertains thoughts of leaving. And du Pont is clearly in some sort of unhealthy mental state, dealing with delusions of grandeur and a desire to send his mother a message. Over the course of 133 minutes, you observe these individual issues bump into one another, setting off a chain reaction of tragedy from which there is no return. The results are both hypnotic and deeply disturbing.

Steve Carell might seem an odd choice for such a dramatic role, but when you think about it, the casting makes perfect sense. He's primarily a comedic actor, and comedians specialize in playing eccentricities. John du Pont was nothing if not eccentric. Carell, under makeup that occasionally renders him unrecognizable, effectively conveys the man's peculiar personality, making the eccentricities disquieting rather than funny. You can practically feel the sickness coming off of him. Channing Tatum is equally good, easily giving the best dramatic performance of his career. He makes Mark Schultz a guy who can't quite reconcile the fact that winning a gold medal didn't solve all his problems. As du Pont grows weirder, he grows more resentful. Tatum captures this bubbling-up of anger with consummate skill. Mark Ruffalo has a comparatively smaller role, yet he also gets the film's best scene, in which Dave does an uncomfortable interview about his benefactor.

Without saying too much, Foxcatcher suggests that the death of individual dreams is what leads to the murder. The participants get together thinking they'll be creating magic, only to discover that their goals are more conflicting than it initially appears. Incompatible bottom-line desires lead to desperate clashes, as they all struggle to prevent their dreams from vanishing before their eyes. That's the kind of idea that gets under your skin. A few facts are fudged – the movie skips over the seven years directly preceding the murder – but they're done in the hopes of getting at a larger truth. Foxcatcher, with its layered performances and emotionally precise storytelling, is a riveting drama that leaves you spellbound and more than a little shaken.

( out of four)

Foxcatcher is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence. The running time is 2 hours and 13 minutes.

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