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January 9, 2015

Evenings Out

The Unbearable Slowness of Watching

Quasi-gay film distorts reality to plod toward Oscar dreams

When the new year rolls around, film studios often get out those last-minute hurrahs to qualify for the upcoming Academy Awards. Mid- to late-December openings are either tentpole films for families to enjoy over the Christmas break, or ones the studios want the Academy to have fresh in their minds when theyíre voting on nominations.

While Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell have all been in big-ticket blockbusters, their new film, Foxcatcher, is most certainly one the studio wants to garner some Oscar nods.

Unfortunately, members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will have to stay awake through the film, which is not an easy feat, and must overcome a story which might have actually been more intriguing had screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman kept closer to the real-life events that they claim to represent.

Ruffalo and Tatum play David and Mark Schultz, brothers who won Olympic gold in wrestling in 1984. Carell (who is slightly funnier in this role than in Anchorman 2, but that latter film was to comedy what Pol Pot was to comedy) portrays John DuPont, scion of the chemical company DuPonts.

DuPont hires Mark, the younger brother, to recruit and coach a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, spouting patriotic garbage about how the Russians support their wrestlers so well, and it is a sign of this great nationís descent into crapulence that the United States does not. He wants to rectify that by using his vast fortune to train and sponsor wrestlers.

The relationship works out well at first. Mark wins the world championship, and training begins for the Olympics, but DuPont, who wanted to wrestle himself but was not allowed to by his mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), really wants David to come and coach for him.

Since the film is based on a true story, it is no spoiler to reveal that DuPont winds up shooting and killing David. In real life, the murder could be chalked up to paranoid schizophrenia and possibly amphetamine psychosis. In the film, however, motivations are murkier, and there is more than a little indication that DuPont is secretly gay, fixated on Mark and the other muscular young men he has wrestling for him.

Therein lies the rub, if you will excuse the choice of phrasing. It seems a cheap attempt by the screenwriters and director Bennett Miller to offer something titillating for the audience to sink their teeth into, but it is neither true nor interesting.

Out Magazineís Armond White vilifies the film, regarding Carellís casting as a stunt, like that of Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote. Similarly, he notes, while their homosexuality (genuine in the case of Truman Capote, apparently not in the case of John DuPont) is ďpart of a characterís perverse idiosyncrasy,Ē Miller appears to abhor sexuality. With the exception of the wrestling, and David Schultzís wife and two children, there is almost no indication that anyone in the movie has ever had sex. Jean DuPont may as well have hatched John from an egg for all the tenderness between them.

And for the two-hour runtime of the film, and the score that could sedate the most hardcore of insomniacs, the only real payoff for the film is a brief shot of Channing Tatumís perky behind while he is being weighed in for the Olympics.

What might be more disturbing is the amount of distortion put into the story to make it what it is. Most of the events of the film occur from 1986 to 1988; DuPont shot David Schultz in 1996--eight years after everything else going on in the movie. However, to watch it, you would think it happened immediately after the 1988 Olympics.

In reality, Mark Schultz, DuPontís neighbors and associates all said that they had virtually no indication that he was gay and attracted to Schultz, despite the news media at the time trying desperately to find such a connection. However, the intervening years between the Olympics and the murder saw a decline in DuPontís mental health, with signs of paranoid schizophrenia creeping in, like removing treadmills and exercise bicycles from the training facility he owned because he thought the timers were turning back time. He also thought his motherís horses were sending him messages from Mars.

So, in pursuit of Oscar glory, an interesting story has been rendered almost completely boring, while simultaneously gay-baiting its audience. If anyone knows how to get a hold of Bennett Miller, I would like to email him requesting that two hours back. He can even keep the five seconds of Tatum ass, I can be that magnanimous.












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