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Cinema in Focus: ‘Foxcatcher’

2 Stars — Tragic

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is based on the true life autobiography Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness and the Quest for Olympic Gold by Mark Schultz. It chronicles the events that culminated in the shocking 1996 murder of Schultz’s brother David, an Olympic wrestling champion by multimillionaire John du Pont of the American chemical dynasty.

This story is a sobering tale of both the state of affairs of great athletes who are dependent on the whims and largesse of rich donors and the utter disintegration of a rich family that has become rotten to its moral core.

Du Pont (Steve Carell) was an heir to the family fortune that was built on 150 years of munitions, chemicals and fabrics. Like so many sons and daughters of great wealth, his life had lost any semblance of meaning. His mother, Jean du Pont (Vanessa Redgrave), was more interested in her horses than her son, and John admits that he had only one friend when he was growing up and later discovered that his mother had paid the boy to be his friend.

Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his old brother, David (Mark Ruffalo), both achieved gold medals for wrestling in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Schultz writes in his biography: “Ours had all the makings of a rags-to-riches tale. From poor beginnings, we fought our way through life and the world of wrestling to win a combined four National Collegiate Athletic Association championships, two Olympic gold medals and three World Championship titles. But the riches never came. We won plenty of gold, but never found the brass ring that would allow us to compete without having to rely on the likes of John du Pont, a credibility-craving, controlling misfit of a multimillionaire.”

Schultz’s life of post-Olympic poverty changed when he received an invitation to move to du Pont’s fabulous farm in Pennsylvania and to become a friend and trainer at the new “Foxcatcher Olympic Training Facility” that du Pont fashioned as his chance for personal and social recognition. In reality, it became a place where du Pont played out his illusions as a respected coach in front of his mother, a skill he unfortunately did not possess. Schultz’s time as a new member of “Team Foxcatcher” resulted in his joining du Pont in a slow disintegration of their moral core and self-esteem.

Craving more and more recognition, du Pont would buy and sell anyone to make himself feel important.  When he could not get the satisfaction he desired from Schultz, he paid to bring Schultz's more stable brother and mentor, David, to Foxcatcher. Realizing that he had become just the possession for a rich man who seemed to be descending even deeper into hell, Mark Schultz fell into even deeper depression.

Being quite self-assured, David Schultz would not give in to du Pont’s demands for phony recognition, and in a moment of madness, du Pont shoots and kills David in front of witnesses, including his own security man. In a celebrated court trial, he was ruled to have been mentally ill but not insane and was sentenced to prison, where he died 13 years later in 2010.

A happy movie, this is not. It is, though, a well-acted morality play displaying how money can corrupt and send a person to a hellish prison of his or her own making for life.

Discussion

» The thought that leaving your family a fortune will be a blessing is often not true. What would you do if you had a great fortune? Would you make it so your descendants did not have to work? Why or why not?

» Some athletes seem to be able to parlay their athletic skills into wealthy endorsements and contracts while others do not. What do you think makes the difference?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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