Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) has always lived in the shadow of his older, more charismatic and fellow gold medal winning brother Dave (Ruffalo). However an out of the blue invite from the extremely wealthy John du Pont (Carell) to live on his estate and form a team known as team Foxcatcher to be world and Olympic champions with his state of the art training facility with du Pont as ‘coach’ gives Mark the chance to finally step out of the shadow of his brother. However a troubled relationship forms between Mark and du Pont, and when du Pont finally persuades Dave to join team Foxcatcher the relationship between all three of them takes some even darker turns.
Foxcatcher is another of those films that even the use of a single word can mean entering spoiler territory and despite the fact this is a true story from the recent past, it is apparently not that well known and (I know I am not the first to say this) it is best to approach this film without looking up the true story first. However, even if a viewer is very familiar with the actual story, Bennett Miller’s film is still a very haunting and intelligent drama that examines some very powerful and intriguing themes.
I for one am not a fan of wrestling, but that bares little relevance to the experience of Foxcatcher as this is most definitely not a conventional sports movie, but more an intelligent examination of emotive subjects associated with the human condition. Through the relationship each of these three characters has with one another the narrative explores themes of power, family, loyalty and one’s overpowering desire to prove others wrong and be noticed on your own terms.
Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s script treats the audience with the utmost respect; never over emphasising or over explaining the themes it is examining. At times sometimes body language and looks exchanged are all we need to describe so many emotions that the characters are feeling (the first scene shared between Tatum and Ruffalo is an example that has been frequently mentioned) and it is this minimalist and stripped back approach to the entire film that makes it so emotionally involving and rewarding. The pace is slow, but this allows the rich atmosphere and our engagement with the characters to develop and so many aspects of the film to continue to linger in our minds long after the final credits have finished rolling.
Foxcatcher is very much a film of mood, and dominating the entire narrative is a sombre and melancholic mood filled with a foreboding sense of tension. Bennett Miller creates this superbly and effectively with his camerawork and this is only enhanced further by Greig Fraser’s bleak cinematography.
What makes Foxcatcher so engaging and emotionally involving in my view is that every character emerges sympathetic and relatable, and the slow measured pace and the understated and physical performances only enhance this. John du Pont may be born into the wealthiest family in America but the motivations behind his actions in this film are certainly at times pathetic or a little sinister and the way he goes about things a little disturbing at times. They are however also quite relatable as at their very heart they are very basic needs; The foundation of this is his relationship with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and his extreme loneliness which leads to an extreme need to prove himself to everyone in his country and brings a slightly deluded sense of patriotism. Again, these are never spoon fed to audience, but touched on at just the right amount for us to understand the mindset of du Pont and allow his character to hauns us. As du Pont, Carell is excellent; the prosthetics are never distracting and his understated performance in which he completely embodies the character of du Pont deserves the award recognition it has received.
As Mark Schultz Canning Tatum is also excellent; he is admittedly an actor that does not have the most extensive range, but he is impressive here. Like du Pont, he feels he has a lot to prove to the world and Tatum embodies the deep frustration of Mark with an understated and effectively physical performance. It is a shame that Tatum has not got the award recognition of the other actors, as the role of David Schultz (though played extremely well by Ruffalo) is in my view a less challenging one, particularly for Mark Ruffalo as the character of Dave Schultz is very similar to characters that Ruffalo often plays.
As the gripping relationship between all three plays out and takes some very dark turns, Foxcatcher is never anything less than deeply compelling and its developments and the themes the narrative explores along the way live long in the memory after the film has finished.
Bleak, deeply engaging and haunting; Foxcatcher is a superbly and intelligently made, written and acted psychological drama that examines some dark but relatable aspects of the human condition.