Directed by Bennett Miller.
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave.
The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.
Here’s a strange one. Sometimes, on a first watch, you just don’t get into the same rhythm as a film through no real fault of either viewer or filmmaker; Foxcatcher is one such experience which never seemed to grab me in the way I think it wanted to, yet I’m hard pressed to place a reason as to why. All the parts are there, but their effects were minimal after initial promise of something far greater.
Miller’s film is like a soup, created with some the best ingredients available, boiling on a low heat but it never quite gets cooked to the point where it’s enjoyable to consume. The problem is that, whilst not every film has to deliver an explosive and ‘jaw dropping’ ending, this one appears to be heading towards something far more interesting than what actually happens. It’s based on a true story and of course it was always leading up to that event, but regardless of this inevitability the two hours it takes to get there is ultimately unrewarding even if it is brimming with potential in very nearly every scene.
Like most films I walked into Foxcatcher purposely knowing next to nothing, not a clue about the real life events of multi-millionaire John du Pont and his relationship with wrestlers Mark and David Schultz. The plot of the film, as it would turn out, is very simple and therein lies both its strengths and weaknesses; the three leads are giving ample screen time to deliver some excellent character acting in a minimalist environment – the film could be a stage play with a few minor tweaks – and Miller is allowed to slowly build his film, never rushing a scene or beat, yet by the end I was curiously left unfulfilled. Whilst it is easy to explain what the film does well, it is these triumphs which tempt to overshadow the greater failings of the story and plot of a film of Foxcatcher’s length.
As a character study of two outcasts, namely John and Mark, the film cannot fail to impress. Both men are living in the shadow of others (a mother, a brother) and both need each other to feel self worth; John needs trophies and Mark wants to be remembered. John has a $200 million fortune and looks to buy success in the 1988 Olympics with the US wrestling team, he cannot fathom why anyone would not want to join him; money is a commodity to him and everyone has a price. Mark is seen as living a very meagre existence and, despite the gold medal he won at the 1984 Olympics, Mark is a forgotten man when the film begins; he eats alone in his car, alone in his small apartment, no wife or children. Miller places the men together in a quasi father/son relationship, neither of whom impressed the ones they loved, but the pressures on both men take their toll by the film’s conclusion.
This is also clearly an American tragedy; the extremes of endless finances and making ends meets in the decade of excess are offset by two men who have a void at the heart of them which cannot be filled. A twisted co-dependency unravels between men who both need each other yet can never be satisfied. The themes of Foxcatcher are endless interesting even if the movie itself falls short of greatness.
There are numerous scenes where Miller shows small and subtle details to give the audience everything they need to know about the relationships between the characters, helped in no small part by the measured performances from the three leads. I really liked quite a few scenes; an extended sequence which shows a warm-up between the brothers, each knowing their movements like a dance routine, where barely a word is uttered yet the animosity between the two is thick in the air in this familiar routine; a self-implosion after losing a match leads to a explosion of violence from Tatum as he destroys a hotel room and eats himself to a unsustainable weight in a bid to become too heavy to face another match; an uneasy take down by John on some of his young wrestlers as they goad him on with mock cheers. All great scenes with terrific performances, and each one adding a layer of foreboding to the story.
Foreboding is one thing but dramatic impact on the audience is another. The film is oddly one note from start to finish, where none of the characters appear to go through any significant change. John du Pont enters the film as an oddball, a weirdo, and that’s how he always appears; we have little sympathy for him or really care about his mental state because he is so closed off from the audience. Hidden behind that prosthetic nose and makeup, Steve Carell is given plenty of screen time to stretch his acting range but it’s the same range from beginning to end, rarely giving us much to take away. Mark Schultz is shown as a powder keg of emotional instability from the start and his loneliness and self-hatred is devastatingly displayed by Tatum, and despite having more emotional range to work with, his characterisation rarely leans toward anything near fascinating.
The movie and its characters start and end the same way; dark, brooding, miserable, and sadly empty.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.