(Note: This is not a movie review per se, rather an armchair analysis of Steve Carrell's depiction of John Du Pont.)
THE TRAILER TO FOXCATCHER WAS FASCINATING, and while I knew that watching it on the plane back from GDC (the Game Developer's Conference) would provide a sub-standard experience, I couldn't resist. A disturbing real-life story of wrestling and patriotism, played to disturbing effect by actors Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum? I was sold.
Well, I didn't love it, but that isn't to say that Foxcatcher isn't interesting. It's a very slow film, the color palettes muted, and the soundtrack bare-bones (in fact, I'm not even certain that I recall any music at all). The story lacks both focus and a clear protagonist; Tatum seems to fade out halfway through the film in favor of Ruffalo, who plays Tatum's brother. Ruffalo's role is well-played but unchallenging. Tatum was quite convincing as a a morose and slow-witted wrestler with both an underbite and serious set of attachment issues, but was given little space to develop himself further.
But the reason Foxcatcher stuck with me was, of course, Steve Carrell.
In looking at photos of John Du Pont, I saw few aesthetic similarities between himself and Steve Carrell. This didn't bother me at all, but it did make me wonder at the rather bold direction they took with Carrell's makeup. The makeup job was unusual: Carrell looks bloodless, with a long, hooked nose, faded eyebrows and shortened dentures. His demeanor is even more unusual, quiet and unsettling in ways I've never seen before.
The movie starts with an old reel of a fox fleeing from hounds, while men on horseback charge after them. An image of old-world aristocracy, is it not? And indeed, in John Du Pont we see a man obsessed with legacy (though he has none of his own, children or otherwise). He lives in the past, and stares out the gray windows while recalling the golden age of American leadership. He ascribes to all things macho - guns, wrestling, and tanks - and yet he is a feeble man, aging and childless. Even his mother - an aloof woman who still retains the vestiges of class and nobility - thinks him an embarrassment. Their sprawling, antiqued-wallpaper manse is hers; the trophies are hers, the furnishings are distinctly hers, and the prized horseflesh that roam the fields are all hers.
But her world is ending, and she knows it.
Because John Du Pont is no stallion. John Du Pont is an aging hound, running after something he will never catch. Looking into Carrell's vacant and vaguely troubled eyes, the viewer can perceive a mind at once slow and murky. His teeth, when he bares them, are small and nasty things, worn to the nub. He sits very still, without expression, with his large nose lifted into the air, but it seems that his atrophied senses are perpetually failing him. He never really seems to present, staring into the distance. Is he reliving the past, you wonder, or struggling to plumb the ever-present mist for that antique American myth?
He builds a team of young American hounds, hounds that he thinks will lead the charge again. He roughhouses in embarrassing fashion with his young stable of wrestlers, blind somehow to his own enfeeblement. He sees himself as both their coach and their father, and yet he knows nothing of either. When Mark Ruffalo - a strong, virile man with both a legacy and a family - enters the picture, he demonstrates a natural grace and leadership that Du Pont can only dream of. Du Pont admires him, at first, but when he realizes that his supposed position as alpha-dog is, itself, an antique concept, the realization (coupled with the death of his mother) erodes what remains of his sanity. And in the end, in an attempt to reassert his dominance, the old hound does the only thing it knows how to do.