I should begin any review of Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” by noting that DuPont products put dinner on my table. My father, an accountant by trade, later purchased a small business that sold DuPont products to auto body shops. That might make me the wrong person to review the film. Or it might make me the right person. You judge.
The DuPont company has had a long and fascinating history, starting as an arms supplier, then evolving into a chemical company, becoming a leader in the development of plastics. When one says, a leader in the development of plastics, one is essentially saying a leader in the development of the modern world. The company’s legendary slogan, better living through chemistry, suggests the goal of a progressive form of capitalism as a means to living better lives.
DuPont is both a major polluter (an inevitability for a chemical company) while also being praised, at times, as a leader in corporate environmental care. DuPont both invented CFCs as well as phased them out for more environmentally friendly replacements. As an arms manufacturer DuPont put the metal and blood in historical tragedies. The same company also makes the Kevlar protective gear worn by medical professionals fighting ebola.
In short, DuPont is a particularly ripe example of the blessings and tribulations of American wealth. This is the complicated reality for which “Foxcatcher,” praised for its one percent-versus-the-rest-of-us dynamics, does not adequately account.
The DuPont family itself has a similarly complicated variety of descendants. Pierre “Pete” DuPont served as governor of Delaware and ran for President of the United States in 1988. At the same time a different heir, John DuPont, willed himself into being a patron of Olympic athletes, especially wrestlers. He ended his life in prison serving a murder conviction. “Foxcatcher” is that story. Steve Carell transforms himself, to the point of a fake nose, to play DuPont as a scary capitalist quietly hellbent on living up to his family legacy. The film treats DuPont, a paranoid schizophrenic, as a deeply unsympathetic monster, a deformed knee-padded weirdo with toy train sets, a gun fetish, and a mother issue. But all I see is a sick, unfortunate man born just a little too early for effective medical care.
More vitally, “Foxcatcher” would like to link DuPont’s act of murder to his wealth as an act of class exploitation. But it had nothing to do with his wealth, it happened because he was a sick man. DuPont spent great sums of money on helping wrestlers and other Olympic athletes reach their potential. Had he been a mentally healthy person, his philanthropy would be unmistakably admirable. Last, it doesn’t help that Bennett Miller is my whipping boy for blurred photography. There is a back story to this: one night I was flipping between “Moneyball” and “Chinatown.” The deep-focus beauty of Polanski’s masterpiece stood in stark contrast to the moving blob in the “Moneyball” frame. Watch the shots when Carell and Tatum (playing Olympic wrestler Mark Schwarz) first walk into the brand spanking-new Foxcatcher gym. The two men are in medium close-up focus. The far side of the gym should be in focus, emphasizing the size and layout of an impressive new facility . Instead it is blurred. Then the camera turns around and the reverse shot, with the men inside, is in focus. Why is the background blurred at first? Then why is not blurred on the reverse shot?
It’s not entirely fair for Miller to be lined against the wall for this common offense. Sorry, Ben. That’s the way the dice rolls.