The film tells the story of the 1984 Olympic gold medallist winning wrestlers Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his older brother and trainer Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is determined to be the best and when enthusiastic millionaire John E. du Pont (an unrecognisable Steve Carell) comes calling to enlist him for his own wrestling academy on the grounds of his expansive Foxcatcher Farms estate, how can he refuse? However things soon take a dark turn as Mark’s brother comes to join him under the leadership of du Pont ahead of the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Foxcatcher is a film that presents a very unsettling story and while Miller’s deliberately snail-pace direction will make or break it for most, there is something about the film that penetrates you and festers under your skin.
From an early point onwards, there is an icy lack of feeling (which is kind of the point), which admittedly makes this a hard film to love. The scripting is reserved and the emotion among the characters often seems primal or rather off but as Foxcatcher creepily escalates to its conclusion there is something awfully compelling and troubling about the unusual power the film has.
This is a film that presents the well-worn idea of pressure under competition but always seems to be saying more through its silences and almost painted settings that make up Greig Fraser’s cinematography. As Mark and du Pont grow close you realize that there is something tainted about this whole affair. Indeed many may lose patience with the deliberate pacing before the story starts bubbling but if you stay in tune with it, a very spontaneous and effectively abstract ending is reached.
Say what you will of the drawn out delivery but there is no denying the power of the central trio of performances. Ruffalo is perhaps the most human character on display as Dave Schultz, who is soon ensnared in the story and more deeply later on. Ruffalo occasionally breaches intimacy without properly breaking that barrier, giving Dave an undeniable strength but at the same time a level of distance (underpinning his side role as a trainer) to his brother. Tatum also impresses as Mark, who is a far less structured and more impulsive character, driven and determined but rather tortured at the same time. However the film is unquestionably stolen by the straight playing support of Steve Carell. Carell is so effective here that it is hard to believe this is the man who is one of modern mainstream comedy’s heroes. As the near emotionally dead du Pont, he chills to the bone marrow.
Presenting a rather broken figure that has power and wealth in abundance but is pining for a dream that has passed him by, Carell plays the part sublimely with the irrational egotism of Patrick Bateman and the troubled mind of Norman Bates.
This is a very odd motion picture and one that, ironically enough, feels motionless at points. It moves methodically along, giving insight into this sport, into this true-life story (parts of which it does indeed take liberties with) and into the minds of its characters. Audiences will either play or walk away but if you stay seated, once you reach the end of Foxcatcher, the film leaves you worryingly stranded in a paranoid, disturbed and rather impaired world of ego, athleticism and family. This is a film that is not perfect, in fact it is hard to actually feel for much of anything being displayed onscreen but at the same time it is hard to shake away the movie’s cold embrace. Foxcatcher is hard to adore but spellbindingly stony at points and affectingly ambiguous come the conclusion.
Review by Jack Bottomley
[SRA value=”4″ type=”YN”]
Foxcatcher is out on now on DVD and Blu-ray.