A film that will have definite emotional resonance with many people, not least myself, Foxcatcher pulls no punches in telling the story of Mark and Dave Schultz, through their meeting with rich wrestling enthusiast John du Pont to their part in establishing the ‘Foxcatcher’ training facility at du Pont’s farm.
The Schultz brothers were Olympic gold medalists, having both won gold in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics. Foxcatcher opens some time after that, with Channing Tatum playing the role of Mark; a role in which Tatum spends most of his time, at least early in the film, brooding around on screen. Hence perhaps the reason he’s been overlooked for this year’s main awards, but make no mistake: despite its lack of ‘flash’ and charisma (which, after all, is kind of the point), for me it is Tatum’s best role by some distance.
Mark Ruffalo plays his older brother Dave, a family man who often seems the voice of the two. Arguably the most ‘normal’ of the main characters in this film, Dave nonetheless struggles to communicate verbally with his brother, and the pair rely on their physicality to tell the story of their relationship.
Tatum and Ruffalo do an excellent job of it, helping to give this film a very particular tone that is unique in contemporary mainstream cinema, where everything is too frequently spelled out to the audience in words. When words are used in Foxcatcher, they are rarely used thoughtfully or logically. Body language is the direct communicator in this film, and it takes some reading between the lines to decipher the intentions of its main characters.
Of course one cannot speak of the main players without also talking about du Pont, and Steve Carell’s portrayal of him. A socially awkward man who forms an equally awkward relationship with Mark, though ironically one based more on verbal communication than what Mark has with his brother, du Pont is very much one of the core memories you will take away from Foxcatcher.
Carell’s refreshing diversity as an actor is shown to greater effect than we’ve seen before; suffice to say du Pont is quite different to any other character he has played, and yet there is also a sense of satiric humour to the man. Certain scenes could be played for laughs but are not, mostly thanks to a looming undercurrent of uneasiness throughout the film.
You’ll get the gradual feeling this undercurrent is building up to something sinister, though I wouldn’t like to say whether it leads to a pay-off or not. This is, after all, a film that is all about the journey rather than the ending, as powerful as the latter is. For that reason I’d recommend you go into it cold, if you do not already know the true story on which Foxcatcher is based.
Director Bennett Miller is as much a star as the three leads, thoroughly deserving of his Best Director Award from the 2014 Cannes Film Festival (arguably a more prestigious one than certain upcoming American awards, for which he will likely be overlooked). In fact every part of this film comes together with such ease – albeit an enjoyably awkward ease – that it’s hard to look at it as anything other than a modern masterpiece. Some may not so much enjoy the sense of discomfort Foxcatcher occasionally gives its audience, but the fact it is able to this so well speaks volumes of the skillful work that has gone into this film. And I, for one, loved it.
10 / 10