Monday, December 22, 2014


seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

Should athletes be heroes? I suppose it depends on how you define the word "hero." As a kid, the 1986 Mets were heroes to me, even though I hadn't even followed baseball all that long. I just happened to begin following them at a time when they were growing into a successful team, one that would go on to win the World Series in a dominating fashion. It was all certainly exciting, but would I have cared about them as much if they played .500 ball throughout the 80s instead?

Did I care about them as people? Well, I cared when Doc Gooden and Darryl Strawberry had their problems with drugs, but if I were to be totally honest, I suspect that I probably cared more about the fact that they wouldn't be able to contribute to the team as much. I was a kid, and even though I grew up in the "Just Say No" 80s, the full impact of what drugs could do to a person never truly hit me, especially not within the context of sports celebrities. From my perspective back then, it was as if Gooden and Strawberry were just really sick and needed time to get well again, and when they came back, I continued to root for them as if nothing had changed.

Did I think athletes could be a force for positive change in the world? That was the absolute last thing on my mind when it came to the '86 Mets. I don't recall Keith Hernandez or Gary Carter endorsing political candidates or advocating to save the whales or whatever, and even if they did, I certainly didn't expect them to. I imagine that any sports fan would agree that people watch sports to get away from the real world.

And yet this notion of athletes as heroes, or "role models," has persisted for a long time, despite the overwhelming evidence that they're as flawed, fallible, and human as the rest of us. Some say the very idea of athletes as role models is a fallacy. Others insist that this is an inherent, unavoidable by-product of fame as an athlete, and that may be true. If it is, then one has to wonder what we're teaching our children.

In Foxcatcher, a film based on a true story, Steve Carell, as millionaire John Du Pont, sells Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, on the notion of athletes as heroes in order to get Schultz to agree to letting him be his coach. He comes across as a patriotic type, one who sees the youth of America in desperate need of public figures they can look up to, and a gold-medal-winning wrestler about to participate in the World Championships (and the next Olympic Games further down the road) fits the bill for him just fine - and though he talks a good game, Du Pont has issues of his own.

The movie doesn't delve very deeply into the athlete-as-hero concept. In fact, Du Pont remains largely an enigma from beginning to end, but Carell embodies the character masterfully, to the point where I barely recognized him in the role. I never knew he had these kind of acting chops in him, and I can see why he's getting serious Best Actor consideration.

This is my first time seeing Tatum, and he, along with Mark Ruffalo as his older brother, look very convincing as world-class wrestlers who, of course, employ different methods than professional wrestlers. The two of them have an excellent rapport with each other.

Foxcatcher is well made all around, but ultimately it left me feeling cold. It was difficult to care about what was going on, in part because the movie feels as deadpan as Carell's Du Pont, almost Kubrickian, in fact. At around the halfway point, I actually started nodding off (although in fairness, I was fighting a cold and didn't have much sleep). 

I was unfamiliar with the true events behind this story, so the ending caught me by surprise, but otherwise, I can't see much to recommend about this movie beyond Carell's great performance. I went into this with the impression that it would be different than the usual wave of biopics we get year after year, including this one, and in a way, it kind of is, but emotionally speaking, I found it hard to care much about this film.

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