Foxcatcher (2014): Isolation, wealth and destruction in the wrestling ring

Film

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Directed by: Bennett Miller Written by:E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo

The blurb says: “FOXCATCHER is a psychological drama directed by Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller (MONEYBALL) and starring Golden Globe winner Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller. The film was written by E. Max Frye and Academy Award nominee Dan Futterman. FOXCATCHER tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who sees a way out from the shadow of his more celebrated wrestling brother Dave (Ruffalo) and a life of poverty when he is summoned by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carell) to move onto his estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Desperate to gain the respect of his disapproving mother, du Pont begins “coaching” a world-class athletic team and, in the process, lures Mark into dangerous habits, breaks his confidence and drives him into a self-destructive spiral. Based on actual events, FOXCATCHER is a gripping and profoundly American story of fragile men who pinned their hopes for love and redemption on a desperate obsession for greatness that was to end in tragedy.” Sony Pictures

The verdict: Would you like a fun, uplifting night out at the cinema? Then Foxcatcher is not the film for you. Slow, unremittingly bleak and claustrophobic, Foxcatcher is an exercise in tension, but a brilliant one. The official publicity material sells this as a film about wrestling and says it’s a “profoundly American story”. I would argue it is neither. Wrestling, and the fact this is based on a true story (although those involved in the ‘real story’ are now distancing themselves from the film), are merely the pegs upon which this tale of the corrupting influence of money and loneliness are hung. Foxcatcher is not a film for sports fans, and anyone expecting to see wrestling will largely be disappointed. That said, the few segments which do show wrestling are integral to the plot, acting as character exposition rather than a demonstration of sporting prowess. Steve Carrell noted in a recent interview that Bennett Miller had originally shot about 20 or 30 minutes of scenes showing the relationship between the Schultz brothers, but eschewed these in favour of a 2 minute wrestling sequence which really does speak volumes. Miller, along with Tatum and Ruffalo (who are excellent throughout) manage to express a lifetime of back-story in to this visceral sequence. That theme of wordless exposition continues throughout the film, with silence helping build the tension.

However, even with Bennett Miller’s expert direction, Foxcatcher could still just be resigned to the dank recesses of the VOD market were it not for the incredible performances. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo both bring incredible physicality to their roles, their walks and mannerisms all transformed into the brothers who live for wrestling. Then of course, there’s Steve Carrell. His transformation in to John du Pont is disconcerting. Forget the make-up, it is all about Carrell’s delivery and presence on screen. He turns John du Pont into a truly memorable cinematic character, one who you will find yourself dwelling on for some time. I am sure many essays will be written on the warped father/son dynamic of du Pont and Mark Schultz and what really caused the breaking point between the pair. For me there were some parallels between this and Behind the Candelabra, with the corrupting influence of money over the young protege… the Schultz family have had issues with some reviewers mentioning the homoerotic elements, but they are firmly embedded within the film.

Then of course there is the heavy-hitting ending, which I won’t spoil for those of you who are unfamiliar with the true-life tale. It caused me to audibly gasp, and was a truly shocking moment.

While the story itself is slim, the characters and their interplay is so complex and emotionally entangled it justifies the 2 hour running time.

Foxcatcher is a dark, brutal tale of men who cannot connect or express themselves emotionally. Sad, compelling and shocking, it is a master class in expression through physicality.

8 out of 10

 

Once you have watched the film…

You can watch the documentary commissioned by du Pont online here.

 

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