Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michel Hall .USA. 2h 14m
My first viewing of Foxcatcher was quite surreal, I was more mesmerized by how different the cast looked, Carell’s beak nose and Ruffalo’s hairline are almost mystical, so much great effort went into the prosthetics and character development. This high level of glamour is only a part of a riveting tale of shocking depravity, orchestrated by a filthy rich individual pulling the strings in his own dangerous game, involving the USA Wrestling entry into the 1988 Olympic games.
Based on real events, probably skewed out of recognition for the sake of artistic license; it’s such a hard sensational story I’m amazed it took this long to make the big screen. There seems to have been a push for revealing the darker side of sports in recent years, Vice have their Dark Side of the Ring and with the success of Stephen Frears The Program (2015) and I Tonya (2017) there seems to be all sorts of interest in the lying and cheating going on for professionals to reach number one, in fact there’s hardly any love for the success stories anymore. None of the recent insights into the horrors lurking behind the sporting world has as much tense murky energy as that conjured in Foxcatcher.
The story picks up during a lowest spot in the life of Mark Schultz (Tatum), a collegiate wrestler living off cash from public speaking gigs, usually he’s only invited when his brother can’t attend, there’s a cute montage off him doing mundane life things, queuing for a burger while being a nobody and living in the shadow of his coaching brother David (Ruffalo). His big break comes when his brother can’t answer the call of John duPont (Carell) who takes Mark under his wing to build an Olympic team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Based on a shocking true story
Foxcatcher is very character driven and the interactions are fascinating, du Pont is a very privileged man, coming from a family that could rival the Rothschilds and buy the colour blue. John himself is basically a really complex and difficult character, he has a very strong passion for wrestling and not content with training and competing himself, he decides to chuck buckets of money into the mic and attempts to buy his way into wrestling history. There are so many difficult scenes with this awkward, proud man. He has an ego to match his infamous nose, and after coercing Mark into his panic scheme he continuously attempts to show prowess amongst the team but comes off as awkward and out of his depth, the most embarrassing scenes are when his troubled mother is around, their strained relationship seems to be a root cause for a lot of his habits and hobbies. It seems the lessons of buying friends and using cash to cash to influence the world around you came too late for John.
It’s only cocaine it’s not going to kill you
-John du Pont
While John attempts to coach Mark into the money driven world behind sports, filled with backroom drug’s and poetic speeches, Mark, in return, helps John achieve some success in his aged role of semi pro wrestling. It’s a no brainer that this isn’t enough for the rich boy trying to make himself prominent in a world of tough guys, but technically he still lives at home with his mom and comes across as feminine when standing in a room of burly wrestlers.
The key to Foxcatcher is looking beneath the surface and finding everyone’s awkwardness, there are so many cringy encounters, mostly stemming from any duPont’s involvement. He mimics lessons he’s just been taught, to try and impress his mother playing make believe as an adult is a privileged act. The frail, distant woman is elderly but not dumb, there’s still a glint in her eye, and Redgeave makes sure she’s strong with a wry smile and sharp tongue. One remarkable scene sees duPont face to face with The Shultz family, both brothers, a wife and kids, the happy energy seems too much for him and he makes his excuses to leave Mark attempts to follow like a faithful hound, and is told to “STAY” and in utter obedience he does.
The politics starts to roll in towards the ends of the film, and with the sudden death in the family something happens to the Eagle, withdrawing into himself he’s mania takes over, he may have been strange before but his erratic make believe world is about to crash into reality. Unable to buy the man he wants, making do just isn’t enough anymore. Steve Carell does an amazing job with one of the most curious characters in 2014 cinema. It’s a real credit to his resume to ace this particular role. The hard acting is spread around, with Tatum being a great meathead and no matter what the wardrobe department slap on and take off Ruffalo, he’ll always just be such a nice guy, I really want someone to jump on him and make him play a serial killer now, no one will see it coming.
Foxcatcher is a real joy to watch, not only got it’s highly suggestive retro feel, but the deeper psychological playbacks, and no matter how many times I watch it I get this little knot in my chest as the film crushes it’s characters in the end.
Related: Team Foxcatcher (2016), Capote (2005), Battle of the Sexes (2017), The Program (2015), Dark Waters (2019), I Tonya (2017)
Lists: Sports Docufilms
Spotlight: Mark Ruffalo