Directed by Bennett Miller.
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave.
Based on a true story, Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz is recruited by billionaire John du Pont to compete in the 1988 games in Seoul and the two develop a kinship that leads to unlikely circumstances.
Bennett Miller’s latest film Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics) is a psychological drama driven by strong characters and captivating performances. It’s a familiar, yet unsuspecting story that repeatedly proves itself full of surprises.
When the film opens we meet Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who in his young life is already the recipient of an Olympic gold medal for wrestling. Lacking direction in his life, he inhabits a lonely apartment, dines routinely on Ramen noodles and gets by on the occasional low level speaking engagement. His older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who has a job as a successful wrestling trainer and appears to be happily married with children, seemingly lives a much more functional and fulfilling life. So when Mark is summonsed to John du Pont’s (Carell) sprawling estate and propositioned to join the billionaire’s newly created U.S. wrestling team poised for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, it’s no surprise that he willingly obliges.
Mark, who’s been made to feel like an underachiever for most of his life, is instantly sucked up into du Pont’s strange and isolated world. He lives on his compound, is paid a salary of $25,000 (which he decided himself) and has the freedom to focus solely on what he loves the most… wrestling. At first glance, the situation seems ideal but as the story unfolds it’s clear du Pont wasn’t completely up front about the terms of his offer. He begins to exhibit peculiar behavior like abruptly firing guns indoors and faking falls to provoke grappling with members of his wrestling team. Before long, the portrait of du Pont becomes that of a strange, needy, controlling and potentially very dangerous man. After effectively distancing Mark from Dave, in a fit of anger he recruits the older brother as the team’s new captain, a move that devastatingly impacts the lives of all three men.
The performances in Foxcatcher are of the utmost caliber, led by Carell, who’s portrayal of du Pont is nothing short of captivating. From the moment he appears onscreen, donning some meticulous makeup, including pale skin, age spots, darkened eyes, thinned out eyebrows and a fantastic, large prosthetic nose, he commands the audiences’ attention with a soft demeanor and a quiet, nasally voice. He dazzles, until the credits roll, in both dialog and action. Tatum and Ruffalo also both bring wonderful performances introducing a sibling rivalry at the outset of the film, as well as a strong brotherly bond. There is a striking chemistry between the two actors, where in mere minutes they create a dynamic as experienced wrestlers and loving brothers. They leave little room for audience doubt. The film is rounded out with nice performances from Vanessa Redgrave, as du Pont’s disapproving mother, and Sienna Miller, as Dave’s loving wife. Both women work wonders with minimal screentime.
Foxcatcher is a major achievement for Miller, already winning him the Palme d’Or as well as Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. He has a natural ability for speaking volumes with the absolute minimum. Take for example when Mark first arrives at du Pont’s place and his car distorts for only a second as it approaches the mansion. Could this be our first glimpse of du Pont’s delicate mental state? Possibly. Then there’s the scene where du Pont’s mother is wheeled in to watch him perform his duties as wrestling coach. Putting him in the small, red shorts was incredibly effective at subtly suggesting repressed homosexuality, a theme hinted at throughout the film.
The script for Foxcatcher, written by Dan Futterman (Capote) and E. Max Frye, is also absolutely terrific. It’s lean, layered and chockfull of shockingly entertaining dialog. The film’s cinematographer, Greig Fraser, creates a strikingly dramatic world through his use of muted colors and static, transfixing imagery. Combined with the limited but wonderful score by Rob Simonsen, the film does an excellent job of evoking intended emotions. The strange but beautifully shot scene where du Pont lets his mother’s horses run free definitely comes to mind as a great example of this.
Foxcatcher is a complex character study. It’s a bizarre tale that shows what can transpire when extreme wealth and power are combined with mental illness. Through examining themes of personal life achievement, family and brotherly love it provided a canvas for some of the best performances of the year.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★