Deadly Fascination, or, Better Living with du Pont

Panama Papers got you down? Still feeling the chill of tax season? A dose of the 2014 film Foxcatcher, based on a true story and available on DVD at the Whitehorse Public Library, might be just the thing to remind you to be thankful that you didn’t have the misfortune of being born rich and entitled, or maybe worse, to catch the eye of one of the one per cent.

Brothers Dave and Mark Shultz (played by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) both won gold medals in the Olympics in 1984, making them crown royalty in the wrestling world.

That and spare change can buy them a cup of coffee and a burger – wrestling isn’t the most glamourous of sports. They have to make a living out of these skills, and that’s a challenge for both of them. For Dave, it means moving from one college to another, with a lack of stability for his children that echoes his own upbringing. But Dave is still winning at life; for the less socially adept Mark, it’s even more of a struggle.

Enter John du Pont of the chemical conglomerate Du Pont family, an American dynasty whose fortunes have been interwoven with those of the United States since the country was formed.  

John du Pont has a yen to make his mark in the wrestling world, departing from family tradition – the Du Ponts were renowned in the more genteel world of horse breeding.

He invites Mark to live at one of the family estates to assist him in assembling a competitive wrestling team that will, among other things, make America great again.  

Long used to living in his brother’s shadow, Mark briefly warms in the glow of John du Pont’s regard, but one little item becomes impossible to ignore:  this du Pont is seriously deranged.

Soon Mark is the target of du Pont’s wild mood swings, and it’s questionable if he can recover enough confidence to compete again. What this situation needs is the eminently sane, nurturing presence of Dave – but even Dave can’t remain impervious to du Pont’s enticements.

The screenplay, by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, is based on Mark Schultz’s memoir, but much of Foxcatcher unfolds without exposition. One reviewer commented that you could watch it with the sound off and still understand the complexities of the relationships as they unfold. In the first scene with Mark and Dave together, 30 pages of dialogue went into the wrestling practice that brings them together, but it’s all relayed through their physicality.

Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are brilliant as the Schultz brothers, illuminating the private, idiosyncratic life of competitive wrestlers.

As John du Pont, Steve Carell is transformed through makeup and his own performance into a man raised in such wealth and privilege that when he has a hankering to play with an army tank, the military will deliver.

In a brief appearance as his mother, Vanessa Redgrave is the personification of the chilly portraits of generations of du Ponts that haunt the rooms of their many mansions.

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