Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Froemming picked “Foxcatcher.”
The Movie: “Foxcatcher”
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Director: Bennett Miller
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) U.S. Olympic wrestling champions and brothers Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz join “Team Foxcatcher”, led by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont, as they train for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, but John’s self-destructive behavior threatens to consume them all.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 87 percent
Froemming: To cap off Sports Month, which we apologize for having dragged it into August but that is life, we are visiting a feel-good summer sports comedy starring Steve Carell. I picked “Foxcatcher,” a story about family, wrestling, really awkward haircuts and perhaps Michael Scott’s strangest character yet: John du Pont. More subtle than Prison Mike, less offensive than Ping.
Brown, as I enter a very strange relationship with an eccentric millionaire with mommy issues, why don’t you give us your first thoughts?
Brown: “Foxcatcher”: The Feel-Good Movie of Sports Month!
*sigh* … could you have picked a more depressing subject, Froemming?
Brown: Going into this flick, I knew a little bit about the story of John du Pont, the Schultz brothers and Foxcatcher Farms. ESPN had a fantastic 30 for 30 called “The Prince of Pennsylvania,” and Netflix had their own documentary, “Team Foxcatcher.”
So this movie was one I had on my radar but didn’t have the chance to watch yet. Like Froemming, most of my movie viewing comes from the JOE-DOWN. But, I knew this wasn’t going to be some fun romp.
So, while I get over how weirded out I was over Carell’s prosthetic nose and Channing Tatum’s cauliflower ear, get us started, Froemming.
Froemming: Sure, the one time I pick a wrestling movie, you have problems with it.
The movie starts out in the 80s, which is a prime decade for our movie reviews. We meet Mark Schultz, a former Olympic champion who now serves as his brother’s understudy in giving speeches at elementary schools.
Just writing that sentence about Mark’s life is probably the most depressing thing I have ever written.
Brown: First, Channing Tatum, extremely believable as an amateur wrestler.
Now, as Mark Schultz is giving his speech to a crowd of sleepy kids, I was expecting some jackass (who would have been me if I went to school in the ‘80s) to yell “Booo… We want Hulk Hogan!”
Then, I felt a little better (amongst this depressing scene) when I saw Mark in his crappy car eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers and buying Raman noodles because he’s poor. And this is true of real life: Unless you’re an Olympic superstar and in a less prominent sport like wrestling, you can be a gold medalist and still be poor.
I did feel better, though, that Mark Schultz had the same diet I do.
Froemming: He eats like he is in journalism! Thought he got that $20 check for speaking, so he is richer than most journalists.
We next see where he spends most of his time: His brother’s
shadow gym, where at one point in this film he rolls around on the ground with a rubber man and I suspected I might have accidentally rented “Foxcatcher: A Porn Parody.”
We see his brother, David (Played by Mark Ruffalo looking like he is going through a divorce) is having a chat with some wrestling organization that is not the WWF, which means he is not going to be rich in this deal.
And these two titans of awkward haircuts do some sparring, which leads to Dave getting a busted nose. But the blood coming from his schnoz was less disturbing than that beard/haircut combo of Dave’s.
Brown: Considering the times we’re in, I immediately was like “Mark, COVID is EV-ERY-WHERE! Quit spitting and getting blood all over the mat. Go sanitize this (REDACTED) room!”
And yeah, the movie portrays Mark as always being in David’s shadow which is a little weird considering that BOTH brothers were Olympic gold medalists. Like, Mark had his own hard-earned credentials. But then again, that comes from knowing about the real-life story and a movie doesn’t have the luxury of just touching on stuff like a documentary can.
While the brothers are practicing, Mark mentions someone calling and hanging up on him, thinking it’s David. Then one day when Mark answers the phone, it’s a surrogate for millionaire John du Pont, who wants a face-to-face meeting.
When we see Carell as du Pont, I immediately told Froemming my thought: He looks like the lovechild of Michael Scott and Toby from “The Office.” He has Michael’s features and Toby’s dead eyes.
Froemming: After leaving Dunder Mifflin, Michael and Holly hit hard times, and she leaves him. Spurned and heartbroken, Michael creates a character as he has done in the past, to cope with the trauma. This character is the dead-eyed John du Pont (based off his nemesis, Toby Flenderson), a character that allows him to suppress his emotions and go on with his life with cold calculation. This character consumes Michael to the point he becomes du Pont, thus giving us the more cringey and dark finale of “The Office.”
I need to start watching other things.
So Mark is flown by private helicopter to Foxcatcher Farms with Anthony Michael Hall, which reminds me we need to review “Weird Science” at some point.
At the estate, Mark meets with du Pont, who is talking about America and patriotism and all that, which is pretty easy for a man born into wealth and never had to work a day in his life or face hardship. He wants American wrestling to dominate, which makes me think the man never even watched Wrestlemania III. Because if he did, he wouldn’t be talking like a crazy person like that.
Brown: Again, you want American wrestling to dominate? Get Hulk Hogan!
If you’re in Mark Schultz’s shoes, this is a sweet deal. Sure, du Pont is basically the adult version of Master Bates from “The Toy,” but this is a chance for Schultz to hone his craft without dealing with real-world problems. He has room and board, a top-notch facility and can devote every waking hour to wrestling. And, it’s not only for him: du Pont wants a team of wrestlers.
He also wants David, so we go back to the strained relationship between the brothers. Mark tries his best sales pitch but David doesn’t want to uproot his family to go live in Pennsylvania.
And you get a little into the weird craze of du Pont when he goes full Ted DiBiase and asks Mark how much it would cost because in du Pont’s mind, naturally, everybody’s got a price.
Froemming: Dave is a man of convictions, and won’t be bought (at least at this point). So Mark heads to Foxcatcher Farms, where he pops in unannounced. Look, there is nothing worse than a pop-in, I am glad COVID has put an end to this sort of social thing I despise.
Brown: I’m on vacation this week. So you’re saying I shouldn’t just hop in the car and go to Fargo to say hello?
Froemming: I don’t even answer the phone if I am not expecting a call. You know that!
Brown: This is painfully true.
Froemming: Mark is led to his quarters, pretty much a house on the grounds just for him. He is given a film to watch on the history of the du Pont family, which probably omits all the inbreeding but looking at John du Pont, I think it is pretty apparent that gene pool is pretty shallow. He is also told not to go to the main house, and to never bother John’s mom. Which is solid advice for any guest.
Brown: Who has more pronounced mommy issues: John du Pont or Principal Skinner? Because every time du Pont’s mom was brought up, this is all I could think of.
Froemming: I think Danzig has both of them beat:
Brown: There’s also a point where, after Mark moves into a house on the estate, he starts watching a video about the du Pont family that happens to be in the VCR? Look, if I have to watch a video about the wealth and power of a family before the first night I stay on the property, I’m ducking out in the middle of the night.
But who am I to argue with success because Mark is thriving at Foxcatcher Farms, winning a gold medal in the 1987 World Wrestling Championships. And like any good ‘80s party, they celebrate by getting drunk and listening to David Bowie.
Good times don’t last, though, because more of John’s erratic behavior comes out. At one point, he shoots a loaded gun in the air in the wrestling gym which is… alarming.
Then, with their bond growing, John invites Mark to give a speech where du Pont has his saying that John is his true father figure and the best coach he’s had. Also, John wants Mark to call him Golden Eagle.
And, on the helicopter ride there, John gives Mark cocaine. We’ve watched enough ‘80s movies to know this’ll only lead to trouble.
Froemming: Look, wrestling, cocaine and the 80s were a trifecta. They just went together like peanut butter and jelly. And yes, now cocaine is a part of Mark’s daily diet with his time around John. I am sure it numbs him from those nights John comes to his room and wants to spar. Which is just John grunting on top of Mark is a very hot scene.
Brown: I forgot to mention that du Pont buys a tank (?!?!) and gets all pissy because there isn’t an actual machine gun mounted on it. It’s like we had our own Kim Jong-Un in the rust belt of America, man!
We are seeing the cracks in John du Pont’s psyche, which is actually Michael Scott’s psyche to me. The coke, the awkward midnight sparring, the tank, the fact his mom won’t let him put his (mostly bought) trophies in the family trophy case, John becomes (somehow) more and more creepy as the film progresses.
We even get a speech from him about how he thinks horses are stupid. Are we 100 percent sure this is not a sequel to “The Office?”
Brown: So yeah, in real life, the du Ponts were big into showing horses and equestrian racing, which is peak rich people sports like polo and, you know, other things involving horses. So to have John become obsessed with a more “blue-collar” sport like wrestling is interesting. But he’s essentially collecting wrestlers like I collect Funko Pops which is kind of problematic. For John, not for me. I can quit anytime I want!
Now, Mark is kind of going off the deep end. He becomes very distant and unfocused due to his drug use and deteriorating relationship with du Pont. Mark is disenfranchised when he sees John start a “Masters” wrestling event for 50-and-older athletes that John wins after paying off his opponents. And there’s a point where du Pont slaps Mark around because the team is in Mark’s house getting stoned and watching mixed martial arts instead of practicing. Look, du Pont is bankrolling this operation… but maybe not slap your main guy around?
Now, none of this is as alarming as Mark’s haircut as he is slowly turning into Iceman from “Top Gun.” All he needs is the bite.
Froemming: Who had the strangest haircut in this: John, Mark or David? All three were ridiculous. I am going with John.
Brown: I’d go Mark’s Iceman cut. John looks like his mom cuts his hair but I feel like he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. And David, he looks like David Cross’ father.
Froemming: Looks like Bruce Banner going through a rough divorce.
Anyway, John decides he needs to get David to Foxcatcher to get the team back on track. This move is….well, this is basically what John does to Mark:
And he buys David. He gets to bring his family, and I am guessing since he is more competent than Mark, he is getting more than the $25K a year his brother is.
Brown: There’s tension in the wrestling room. Mark is working out alone and ignoring his brother, much to John’s chagrin.
Then, when John’s mother makes her way down to the wrestling room, John starts acting like the group’s coach and tries to teach basic wrestling moves when, you know, they’re getting ready for the 1988 Olympic prelims. I’m sure John’s mother knows nothing of wrestling. But, she could figure out that an amateur wrestler on the cusp of the Olympics already knew an armdrag.
When we get to Florida for the Olympic trials, it… starts poorly for Mark. He gets dominated in his first match and then goes on what I can only describe as a violent food binge?
Froemming: He goes at that food like I have seen some people go at all-you-can-eat buffets. It is disturbing.
And Dave finds him in this food bender, where he gained, what, 12 pounds? That is a lot of food, but he is a big guy I guess.
Also, the real Mark Schultz has a cameo before this as one of the guys weighing in the wrestlers. I only noticed because I paused at the right time and Amazon X-Ray let me know.
But being 12 pounds over means he has *checks notes* to lose that in 90 minutes?
IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE?
Brown: I CLEARLY don’t know the ins and outs of weight loss. But, it’s water weight that Mark and David are cutting. Doing a quick Google search, a normal person has five pounds of water weight while an athlete could definitely have double that. So, I’ll say it’s plausible*.
*-Note: the JOES are not doctors. We did not go to Hollywood Upstairs Medical College. Don’t follow our medical advice.
Froemming: This movie tells us you can lose 12 pounds of weight in 90 minutes on an exercise bike. So don’t trust this movie’s medical advice either folks.
Mark makes the cut, but in the process David has to keep John out because he is wandering like a lost child in the arena. Or like Michael Scott when he gets lost downtown Scranton.
When it comes to the match, John du Pont is gone. His misses Mark’s comeback victory. It is not out of spite, it is because his mother has died and he had to rush back home.
Rush back home to yell at the horses and let them run free. Which seems like a bad idea.
Things are getting worse and worse at Foxcatcher now. John is spiraling out of control, David at least tries to console the guy on his mother passing and Mark wants nothing more than to get the hell out of dodge.
Brown: Which is what Mark is doing. He manages to claw back and qualify for the 1988 Olympics. When they get back to Foxcatcher, Mark tells David he has to go and they should go together. Their relationship seems like it’s mending since, you know, David saved Mark’s ass.
But, now, David can’t leave this. They put in too much work at Foxcatcher and his family likes it there. And, he thinks he can deal with John. But Mark is set to leave after the Olympics.
But before we head off to Seoul, South Korea, John has a documentary crew come to Foxcatcher Farms and it’s here I’m convinced that in this movie-in-a-movie, John du Pont is becoming Abed from “Community.”
In the gym, the documentarian has a sit-down with David. It’s here David is asked to talk about how great a coach and mentor John du Pont is. It’s pretty much to the point of badgering David, who reluctantly does what he’s told.
Froemming: du Pont is a man who nobody has ever said a bad thing to to his face. So, he probably believes he is this great coach, despite the fact Mark and David are the ones who trained these athletes. John just sat in the house snorting coke.
David does have one caveat with John and Mark. After the Olympics, Mark gets to leave and he will stay. But for him to stay, John must take care of Mark financially while David is working at Foxcatcher.
It is the one time I thought David was being a real prick. Basically extorting John so his good-for-nothing brother doesn’t have to get a job after all of this.
Brown: I don’t know if, at this point, John cares all that much. His only request is he gets to be in Mark’s corner at the Olympics. So, you know, why put in the work to have power when you can do nothing but have the illusion of power?
Froemming: Well, we know where Dennis Reynolds stands on that.
So Mark goes to the Olympics and John is there in his corner with David. And Mark loses. Which means Mark was a horrible investment for John this whole time, since all he wanted was an Olympic gold medal for all his efforts.
True to his word, Mark takes off after his loss, where he ends up in MMA as we see at the end.
David’s ending is more depressing.
du Pont sits in a room watching this “documentary” that he commissioned about Foxcatcher and the Olympics.
Brown: du Pont sits alone in a room watching this doc, just stewing in his own loneliness and insanity. It’s how I imagine Trump watches Fox News every morning.
Froemming: He then gets up and wants to go to his car.
What follows is a troubling encounter with David:
Wait, no that would have been way better and way less tragic than what really happened. In real life. David Schultz did not deserve this:
John, for reasons I don’t think anyone has ever figured out, killed David. He tried to plead insanity, but that was shot down at trial. Only John du Pont knows why this happened and he carried it to his grave, when he died in prison.
To paraphrase the Onion: He died completely alone surrounded by all his friends and family.
Brown: The ESPN doc alludes to du Pont getting deeper and deeper into drugs and alcohol along to an extremely unhealthy level of paranoia after his mom died. There was also an anecdote where David shot a firework toward the “big house,” which made du Pont think that David was the threat he had imagined was on the farm.
Again, knowing about the real story, I would have liked if the movie delved more into John’s spiral after his mom died because the murder comes off a little rushed. The movie portrays it fine; it could have been better, though.
*sigh* Wow, I’m thoroughly depressed now. Not the happiest way to end Sports Month. Let’s go to recommendations while I order hundreds of dollars in room service after losing a wrestling match.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Froemming: Absolutely. This was such a well-done movie. Carell does an amazing job in the role, which is unexpected for such a comedic presence. The story is tragic and depressing, and I would suggest checking out the docs mentioned. Also, how did we not mention ONCE that WWE superstar Kurt Angle was part of Team Foxcatcher?
Brown: Yep. Steve Carell is sufficiently creepy as du Pont. Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are very believable, sympathetic and they have the mannerisms of wrestlers that I’ve seen out and about while covering prep sports. I think this is Channing Tatum’s best performance since being Danny McBride’s gimp in “This is the End.”