Foxcatcher: an allegorical gem

Foxcatcher is already a frontrunner at this year’s Oscars, following its hugely successful world premiere in Cannes, where Bennett Miller won the Best Director prize.
Channing Tatum, left, and Steve Carell in a scene from Foxcatcher. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
Channing Tatum, left, and Steve Carell in a scene from Foxcatcher. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival

When Bennett Miller heard the story that informed his latest movie Foxcatcher, he couldn’t believe his luck. “It’s too perfect,” says the writer-director. “There’s no bad angle on it; it’s an allegorical gem.” What’s more, it’s all true. The story of John E du Pont, the scion of one of America’s wealthiest families, and his increasingly twisted and tragic relationship with two Olympic-champion wrestlers, brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, is a remarkable tale of class, power, status, arrogance and entitlement.

Dealing with what happens when Du Pont invites the Schultz siblings to spearhead a wrestling team destined for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Foxcatcher is already a frontrunner at this year’s Oscars, following its hugely successful world premiere in Cannes, where Miller won the Best Director prize. After all, the Academy loves a transformation, and this film has at least two – comic actor Steve Carell, playing Du Pont, and 22 Jump Street star Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz.

Hidden behind a prosthetic nose and a curious nasal delivery, comic actor Carell is far removed from his most famous creation, that of The Office’s boss Michael Scott. “I wasn’t trying to do an impersonation of Du Pont, more garner an essence of the type of person he seemed to be physically,” he says. “But it was disconcerting: when you catch a glimpse of yourself and it just isn’t you staring back. It was off-putting...even the catering people didn’t want to be around me!”

According to Tatum, Carell remained in character throughout the shoot. “I never worked with Steve Carell,” he says. “He was just Du Pont the whole time.” The Avengers star Mark Ruffalo plays Dave Schultz and with British actresses Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave also on board, the film features one of the classiest casts this year. But it was still a sombre shoot. “Most movies, people will say, ‘it was so much fun, it was so great to be with all of these actors’,” says Tatum. “This was zero fun. It was a quiet set.”

While Tatum and Ruffalo practiced wrestling, Carell had no need. “Speaking to the guys who worked with Du Pont, they said he was an absolutely terrible wrestler...they said: ‘The less you know the better.’” In some ways, this sums up the “dilettante” Du Pont, who even nicknamed himself “Eagle – the symbol of America. “He’s a pretender,” adds Miller. “Everything he had is bestowed on him by coincidence. His great ancestors made a fortune and had a name and he inherited that and that’s all he had.”

Spending thousands of dollars to assemble so-called Team Foxcatcher, bringing the Schultz brothers and other wrestlers to his family’s 800-acre Pennsylvania estate, “I think Du Pont really had the need to be mentor,” says Carell. “He speaks about what the duties of the coach are: to be a mentor, to be a friend, to be a father-figure – but he wanted all of that from everyone, but especially Mark, because Mark was a world champion. There was something hollow to it all. Ultimately, all of these people he tried to garner respect from were people that he’d paid for. He couldn’t earn it naturally.”

One person who clearly has earned respect is Miller. Following 2005’s literary biopic Capote, for which he gained an Oscar nomination for Best Director, and 2011’s baseball drama Moneyball, which gained six Academy Award nods, he looks to have the golden touch. “I just really hope that Bennett gets what he deserves for this movie,” says Tatum. “I think he’s a master filmmaker…I’ll break my back to work with him – wherever.” Now that’s the sort of loyalty Du Pont could only dream about.

Foxcatcher screens during the Dubai International Film Festival at Mall of the Emirates 2 on Saturday, December 13 at 7pm and again on at MOE 6 on Wednesday, December 17 at 3pm.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: December 7, 2014 04:00 AM

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