In screwball comedies, rich people sip champagne, banter and fall in love, but in more serious movies, like Reversal of Fortune, The Great Gatsby or the acclaimed new indie Foxcatcher, the rich folks are inbred, evil and perverse, which is something to think about, when you’re hoping that your child marries a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller. Maybe the best idea is to avoid rich people who keep handguns and private tanks on their estates.
Foxcatcher is based on a true story, and Steve Carell, wearing a beaky prosthetic nose, plays John DuPont, the heir to a huge fortune, who decides to sponsor Channing Tatum as an Olympic wrestler, along with the rest of Channing’s team. There’s plenty of homoerotic subtext, so sometimes it’s like watching Behind the Candelabra, if it had been set on a few thousand acres of isolated Pennsylvania farmland during an especially bleak January, with everyone wearing warmup suits. Mark Ruffalo plays Channing’s warmhearted, well-adjusted brother, while Vanessa Redgrave is Steve’s icy patrician Mom, who’s way more attached to her thoroughbred horses than to her only son. Steve works out all of his psychological trauma through his obsession with Channing and athletics. I asked my husband Josh why so many guys are addicted to watching other guys pummel each other, and he thought about it and said, “The spirit of team play and sportsmanlike competition are critical to the integrated development of masculine identity. Because wrestling is something we can watch on ESPN while we’re eating.”
Then Josh showed me his framed poster of NFL quarterback Tom Brady, where the glass seemed to be smudged with lip-prints, right around Tom’s handsome face. “When I watch football,” Josh said, “I can picture myself running naked during the very first Olympic games, and enjoying a deep comradeship with my fellow athletes. Afterwards we might shower together and open a keg at the Parthenon.”
Foxcatcher is beautifully made, and deeply tragic. A lot of the scenes are just two people staring silently at each other, with either no music or a few lonely piano chords, which is a very high-toned soundtrack for a story about burly dudes tossing each other around. The actors are all terrific, and no one does innocent-jock suffering like Tatum. There aren’t many light moments, because everyone onscreen is pretty much doomed, but I kept hoping that Will Ferrell would skate by in powder blue spandex and toss his hair. Foxcatcher is a very classy movie about a tabloid crime; as Josh remarked, “It’s tasteful and austere, but you still get to admire Channing’s butt in his singlet.” Which is all the cinematic artistry anyone really needs, if you ask me.