UK Release Date: 9th January 2015
Runtime: 131 minutes
Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: E Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Synopsis: A pair of wrestling brothers fall under the spell of an enigmatic millionaire who wants to become the coach of the American Olympic team.
Amongst the furore over the snub of Selma and the love-in for American Sniper, there was little discussion of one notable absence from the Best Picture category at this year’s Oscars – Foxcatcher. Bennett Miller is nominated for the film in the Best Director category, but his chilly, devastating drama was a glaring absence from the Best Picture list. That’s a shame given that Foxcatcher is a terrifically intelligent, subtle take on a mind-blowing true story.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic amateur wrestler, who often trains and works alongside his older brother – and fellow Olympian – Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Living in the shadow of his brother, Mark finds himself attracted to a proposal by millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), who is opening a wrestling gym on his secluded ranch in Pennsylvania.
When I first saw Foxcatcher at the London Film Festival, I was left mostly unmoved and said that it was a very hard film to love. However, on a second viewing, the full subtlety beneath Bennett Miller’s chilly, alienating film became clear. Every silence and lingering stare is pregnant with tension and meaning.
| "A Coach is a father. A coach is a mentor. A coach has great power on an athlete’s life."
The headline-grabbing performance of the film is Steve Carell, moving from comedy to pitch-black drama with his role as John du Pont – a man desperate to find a purpose in a world in which he has achieved plenty of success on the surface, but little on a personal level. Armed with a fake nose and a monotone drawl, he is brutally unsettling throughout Foxcatcher. It’s clear from the outset that something just isn’t right with this man and most of the film feels like a wait for the eruption, which is saved until the climax with remarkable restraint.
At the heart of the film is Channing Tatum, doing exactly what he does best as a huge, lunk of a human being. He portrays Mark as a sullen, almost adolescent, character desperate to prove that he can compete with his brother as the true star of the family. His performance is almost wordless, particularly in the film’s later stages, but he brings a tremendous physicality to the role that says more than his words ever could.
In an early scene of near-silent sparring with the equally excellent Mark Ruffalo, more is conveyed about the two characters without speech than in most entire movies. Miller is clearly utterly unfazed by the depiction of amateur wrestling in Foxcatcher, with Tatum and Ruffalo working hard enough to make the grappling feel intensely real.
At its heart, Foxcatcher is a film about masculinity and the performance of machismo. These men talk to each other, not with words, but with physicality and with gestures. Mark wants to earn the approval of his successful new billionaire friend by becoming the wrestler he knows he can be, having always been positioned figuratively second to the masculine bravado of his more extroverted brother.
| "You’re going to do great things, Mark."
Du Pont himself is playing at being a macho hero for the sake of his ageing mother, played with real gravitas by Vanessa Redgrave. This especially manifests in an excruciating moment at the midpoint of Foxcatcher in which Du Pont pretends to bestow wisdom upon his wrestlers in front of his mother, whilst actually teaching them a basic manoeuvre. It’s a devastating display of Du Pont’s desperate performative machismo.
Foxcatcher is an extraordinarily cold, chilly film, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. There’s a metaphorical wall between Miller’s world of snow and wrestling and the audience, refusing to let anyone in. It’s a cold, unblinking film that, without any sort of flair, points a camera at these pathetic human beings and watches as they interact.
Given this clinical nature, it’s perhaps surprising how well Foxcatcher succeeds at illuminating a truly bizarre real-life story in an intelligent and engaging way.
Pop or Poop?
Pregnant with tension and unsettling bravado, Foxcatcher is an intense examination of masculinity that illuminates a shocking true tale of murder.
Steve Carell is utterly transformative as John du Pont and Channing Tatum also deserves immense praise for his work as Mark Schultz, who in many ways is far more complex.
The final ingredient is Bennett Miller, who directs with the film at arm’s length and keeps it wonderfully unshowy right until the ballsy finale.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.