Crimes of the Chicken Hawk

Crimes of the Chicken Hawk

Gay moviegoers sometimes have their sexuality turned against them as in Foxcatcher, in which Channing Tatum’s hunkitude, used as the focus for director Bennett Miller’s murder tale, promotes a kind of gay-bashing.

Tatum plays the ultimate dumb jock sweating pheromones and insecurity. As a wrestler whose physical close-contact implies intimate vulnerability, he’s sought out by a millionaire psychopathic sports lover who cannot pull together his personal attraction and professional ambition. Lust turns to jealousy then mania.

Miller’s films depict gayness as part of a character’s perverse idiosyncrasy, like Philip Seymour Hoffman’s stunt performance in the 2004 Capote. In Foxcatcher, it’s comedian Steve Carell’s turn at stunt-acting, outfitted with an oversized schnoz, mean beady eyes, dingy teeth, blotchy skin—and gayness, a covert characteristic of self-proclaimed patriot, birdwatcher, and wrestling fanatic John du Pont. It was du Pont, heir to one of the world’s largest chemical companies, who, in 1988, seduced Olympic medalist Mark Schultz (Tatum) with promises of athletic glory and eventually killed Schultz’s wrestler brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo).

The true-crime aspect of Foxcatcher is less interesting than the bizarrely closeted spectacle Miller makes of it. As written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, this film is not sympathetic to the tyranny of the closet or even panicky homosocial athletics. It takes the real-life tragedy and teases about its gay subtext. From Tatum’s balls-heavy jock walk to Ruffalo’s scruffy, hands-on butch-tenderness, this quasi biopic relies on cock-blocking pathos. An undercurrent of snide gay contempt—almost mockery—is felt in the way Miller and team connect du Pont’s freakiness to his conservative politics and affluent, isolated secrecy.

Surely Carell’s oddball performance ought to be a joke but for Miller’s grim seriousness. Foxcatcher portrays du Pont as a homicidal pervert. His sexuality is hidden behind a facade of traditional American patriotism: Founding Father portraits in the du Pont mansion look on as du Pont sponsors his private team of athletes (named Foxcatcher after his family's sprawling estate); these mute choruses never comment on du Pont's freakiness.

Switch the title Foxcatcher to what gays used to call “Chicken Hawk.” Miller’s homophobia is all in code—what his hypocritical admirers might call “discretion.” But as in Capote, it’s really just Miller’s suspicion of sex; his desiccated hatred of eroticism. These meaty athletes are non-sensual. Mark and Dave’s Of Mice and Men relationship seems quasi-incestuous and du Pont's claim, “I do not share my mother’s affection for horse flesh,” is surely a tortured double-entendre. For dirty talk, du Pont and Mark repeat the words “ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist” at each other—a failed SNL skit.

When du Pont awakens Mark for an after-midnight work-out, we’re shown the beast-with-two-backs in silhouette. Miller’s “tasteful” approach keeps us in the dark but surely du Pont and Mark know they’re humping. Miller’s innuendo robs them of their full tragedy while indie movie power brokers who sponsor Miller’s elite homophobia deflect their snobbery with a violent climax. They promote gayness as a pathological stereotype. In its grim, art-movie way, Foxcatcher is a form of gay-bashing. Lovers of the singlet had better stick to Matthew Modine, Michael Schoeffling, and Frank Jasper (pictured below) in the 1985 wrestling mat classic Vision Quest.

Foxcatcher opens in theaters Nov. 14


Frank Jasper in 'Vision Quest' (1985)