At its core Foxcatcher is about what three men fight for and, although it is set against the Olympuc Wrestling scene of the late 80’s, the fight that drives them isn’t necessarily physical. One wrestler fights for family, one fights to be the best and their coach just to be included. The harder they fight the more tensions rise but they never really seem in control. This isn’t a film so much about power as it is about powerlessness.
Based on true events that occurred over the course of a decade, Foxcatcher follows Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), two Olympic gold medal winning wrestlers and brothers who are pursued by John du Pont (Steve Carell), a seemingly eccentric millionaire with ambitions of coaching the greatest wrestling team America has ever produced. But as du Pont’s lack of experience begins to clash with the brothers emotions, resentment begins to surface from all angles at the specifically designated training site Foxcatcher Farm.
Although based on a true story, it would be unfair to detail the extent of these tensions and resentments due to the general obscurity of the events. Needless to say that the general gist of the plotting heavily influences the tone of the movie which is immediately bleak from the opening. The camera operates with clinical precision and there is a cold aberrant look to the movie that feels as equally foreboding as the imploding character dynamics informing events. Regarding those events, there’s not a great deal to comment on as Foxcatcher is a slow drawn out movie that focuses more on character than spectacle, in very similar style to director Bennett Miller’s previous efforts Capote and Moneyball.
Of those characters there’s little disappointment to be had. Ruffalo is on standard brilliant form, going above and beyond the necessary traits required to portray a wrestler. His stature and movement (all seemingly emulated for the sake of this role) suggest a mastery and commitment that is sure to be remembered in the same vein as some of the most memorable Bale or De Niro transformations, whilst Channing Tatum truly excels himself as the brooding and emotionally susceptible younger brother, Mark. Tatum has developed into a genuinely charming and hilarious comedic actor over the past few years but this is the first time that he’s shown any significant dramatic chops and he handily holds up against more established screen presence here. The only minor qualm to be found is in regards to Carell’s portrayal of du Pont. Frequently throughout Foxcatcher, Carell utterly disappears into the role affecting effective mannerisms and odd vocal patterns to immerse himself into the character. At other times, those strange patterns and quirks vanish entirely and ultimately all that is left is Steve Carell doing some fine performing with an abhorrently large prosthetic nose. He’s certainly never bad (and there is certainly something incredibly offputting about the way du Pont basically talks down his nose at everybody) but the moments in which certain affectations seemed to dissipate stood out as the only awkward moments in an otherwise chillingly consistent thriller.
Having set the bar fairly high from himself with his previous efforts, Bennett Miller does a solid job with Foxcatcher of producing another one of the type of movie his name is basically synonymous with by now. There’s a certain emotional core that is clearly present but strategically constrained and a visual majesty that seems to exist on some ethereal plain between fantasy and reality but skewing towards the latter. And of course, if nothing else Miller has proven that he is an actor’s director, able to coax out the most enthralling performances that any given actor is going to be able to provide. As a result Foxcatcher‘s success doesn’t just cement its place in the annals of movie history as a solid production but Miller’s place in Hollywood as one of the most restrained and consistent directors working today.
Astounding performances from Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum, and another deft directorial touch from Miller give Foxcatcher plenty of life with which to tell its haunting and true story.
Foxcatcher is out now in cinemas everywhere