On the most recent season of American Horror Story (Freak Show) there’s a depraved foil by the name of Dandy Mott, a highfaluting, affluent shut-in with a penchant for inflicting violence on those his physical inferior. His tailored suits and slickly oiled part stand in stark contrast to the tattered, deformed calvary of freaks that make up the namesake of the season, but beneath the perfumed facade of opulence and manicured sophistication is a reeking air of base barbarism. His is a most brutish proclivity nurtured utmost by an uninhibited sense of entitlement. In possessing all, nothing has value. Not even human life. With great money comes great power… and little responsibility. As King Joffrey infamously teased, “Everyone is mine to torment.”
Since the most recent economic collapse and subsequent Occupy movement, those in the upper echelon, the “one-percenters”, have become a sort of nationally derided myth. They jet around the world in lavish abandon, attending lush fundraisers, imbibing impossibly priced champagne and banging it out with gaggles of Eastern European models. Maybe slashing the throats of homeless vagabonds every once in a while for good measure. They’ve become caricatures, long teeth and all; braggarts removed from reality; personified wallets who can’t fold into the ebb and flow of middle-class normality. In this folklore view of the uber-wealthy, Patrick Batemans are hiding everywhere. If ever there was a symbol for the recklessly moneyed lifestyle of the criminally wealthy, it’s John du Pont. He’s pretty much the Batman of being a douchey trust-fund baby.
Watching interviews with Du Pont, it becomes immediately clear how out of his depth he is in just about any situation. From charities to coaching, he fumbles his way through his affairs unconvincingly. Writing checks his brain can’t cash. Like a special needs kid quoting Rudy. It’s almost heartbreaking how bad this guy is at being human. Droning on about discipline, responsibility, ornithology, or philately, there’s something to the way he speaks (so soft, so mindless) that makes you want to tune out. That demands it. His patterns of speech may be polished but they’re oh so hollow, like a Kenny G record. He’s basically a walking, talking Ambien with stubby teeth and a quality for malfeasance. There’s no question that were he not quite literally made of money, no one in their right mind would give this loon the time of day.
Foxcatcher follows the true story of du Pont and his relationship with Olympic gold medalists Mark and Dave Schlutz. After winning the top prize for wrestling at the 1984 summer games, Mark (Channing Tatum) still exists in the shadow of older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) until mysterious millionaire John du Pont invites Mark to take part in a training initiate known as “Foxcatcher”. While training at du Pont’s world class facility for the upcoming Worlds championship, Mark and Du Pont strike up an odd relationship that doesn’t fit neatly into a coach-pupil/father-son/boss-employee box. At times, their connection is that of an upsetting bromance. It’s odd but in a very specific, unclassifiable way. Picture an out-of-shape bag of man “pinning” down an Olympic athlete – who rightfully can’t mask his disdain for this lesser act of ego-masturbation – and you’ll get a general sense of their relationship. The whipping boy and the mutt seems as close as I can get.
If you didn’t live through the ’80s (or watch the trailer) you might not know how this story ends and I’m not going to spoil it for you here. We’ll just say that things get a little messy. In a first-degree kind of way. But it’s a quietly devastating tale, more than worth the journey.
As Du Pont, Steve Carrell is a frightfully vacuous vessel of self-righteous delusion. So he’s Michael Scott without the punchlines. (That’s what she said!) He’s the kind of guy who pats himself on the back and won’t stop until you join in on the patting. A pasty, flat-faced, shark-nosed, long-gummed mama’s boy with drug-fueled paranoid fantasies, he’s a misanthrope at an arm’s length from reality. Director Bennett Miller approaches his character with similar distance.