Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Based on the true story of Mark Schultz, an Olympic wrestler whose relationship with sponsor John du Pont and brother Dave Schultz would lead to unlikely circumstances.
If there’s one thing that is reinforced over and over again while watching Foxcatcher, it’s director Bennett Miller’s delicacy and caution with putting up a very bizarre true story on-screen. Miller isn’t really out to tell a story, but rather examine the relationship between three characters, and its tragic ending. This results in a very slow-moving film with methodical pacing and unconventional storytelling – much of the film is very nuanced and subtle, forcing it to be told through actions and body language rather than copious amounts of dialogue – that isn’t always captivating to watch, but nevertheless something cold and disturbing that will stick with audiences long after the credits roll. As a whole, Foxcatcher is a true story that leaves you wondering why it wasn’t a bigger deal, and sparks interest in nearly every facet of the lives of its three protagonists.
Steve Carell’s unsettingly creepy portrayal of John du Pont – one of the wealthiest men in America, who also has an obsession with Olympic wrestling, to the point where he has a training facility on his estate – is one that will certainly be talked about when Oscar season rolls around. The strangeness of the character – i not just his adoration for wrestling either, he is fixated on birds, nationalistic pride, suffers from paranoia, and more – is often off the charts, but it also feels like the root of his eerie presence comes from being misunderstood. There is a scene around halfway through the film where John du Pont’s mother surprisingly shows up while he is mentoring his wrestlers, but she leaves with the same attitude she came in with; a sort of elitist opinion that wrestling is a low sport. During this brief moment while she is trying to give it a chance, John seemingly does everything in his power to convince his mother otherwise – again, this is all done with minimal dialogue – but fails. It is in that moment where it feels like an audience can begin to understand John, but not without stellar acting and direction from both Steve Carell and Bennett Miller. And that’s what Foxcatcher is really about; being understood.
Foxcatcher also analyzes the character of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) – an Olympic medal winner that wants to be the best – who is also clearly psychologically troubled. So when he comes into contact with John du Pont, they develop a friendship bordering on fatherhood. Even though John is clearly a misunderstood person with psychological issues, some of the nationalistic and patriotic viewpoints, and just general weirdness he puts into Mark’s head make for scenes that are both riveting and disturbing to watch. This is a movie about someone that is a few eggs short of a basket, awkwardly trying to be a role model, friend, and father to someone that just has a few more eggs in their basket, but is definitely still missing some.
Circling all the way back to what makes the movie special, Bennett Miller never outright takes a theme too far in one direction. Whether it was drugs, unfulfilled goals, possible sexual tension, or something else, we are given just enough to make what we think of a story that really doesn’t have a concrete explanation for everything. Without spoiling it, John du Pont does something truly terrifying that you would never expect from him, and the event had the audience gasping; there truly isn’t much rhyme or reason to some of his actions. All you can do is try and understand the personalities of the characters in Foxcatcher.
Thankfully, the acting is absolutely outstanding with three Oscar worthy performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. I’ve already discussed Carell’s John du Pont, but Channing Tatum is absolutely fierce and intense as Mark Schultz. He has a nuanced motivation to be the best in the world that is chilling to watch. Mark Ruffalo also makes amazing use of his screen-time as brother Dave Schultz, someone caught in the middle of this very dark situation. It also has to be mentioned that all of the wrestling scenes are exceptionally filmed. You can chalk it up to fantastic cinematography and editing, but both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo went through extensive wrestling training and essentially weren’t able to fake anything. Channing Tatum even has a pretty disgusting cauliflower ear throughout the whole film.
Unfortunately, while I have a great amount of admiration for the complexity of the narrative, at times it just isn’t very engrossing to watch. The finale is beyond shocking and flawlessly executed, but there isn’t much tension getting there. Foxcatcher ultimately wants you to analyze three characters for over two hours that you will have varying levels of attachment to. Furthermore, it’s just not always interesting. Part of the problem is that there really is no one to root for in the film; it’s a very emotionally distant movie without much to relate to. Sure, Mark Schultz wants to be the best, but his personality is just too far out there to cause an emotional investment in his plight. Truthfully, Foxcatcher probably could have used more screen-time for Dave Schultz, as he is a family man and a genuinely human character that could be used as a vessel to better engage audiences into the odd relationship between Mark Schults and John du Pont.
At the end of the day though, Foxcatcher is one of the most bizarre true stories ever adapted. Is it something you’ll want to watch twice? Probably not, but it will stay in your head and keep you hooked on analyzing the greater themes of the film. The atmosphere and acting are also all beyond superb and should be experienced at least once by any serious movie fan.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder – An aficionado of film, wrestling, and gaming. He currently writes for Flickering Myth, We Got This Covered, and Wrestle Enigma. Follow me on Twitter.
And you can listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of Foxcatcher using the player below:
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