Based on a true story. Gold medal winning Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultze (Channing Tatum) continues to train for the next Olympic Games but leads a depressed existence; forgotten in his country, living in a drab and gloomy apartment and eating dried noodles. He trains with his brother, David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), also a gold medal winning wrestler, and struggles to step out of his brother’s shadow. A millionaire, Jean DuPont (Steve Carell,) offers Mark the money and facilities to train, along with a handpicked Olympic team, on his large estate named Foxcatcher. However, the offer may not be as wonderful as it may seem.
Director Bennett Miller, has followed up his last Oscar nominated film Moneyball, a sporting film that’s not really about the sport, with another Oscar nominated sporting film that is not really about sport. Instead, he explores the connections of brotherhood and fatherhood, surrogate or blood connected, in a true story that is, of course, shocking that it actually happened.
Miller’s film is very much an actor’s film, anchored by its central trio of strong performances. What we have is a collection of damaged individuals, attempting to carve out a life in sport, while being alienated from most of those around them. Much has been said of Steve Carell’s performance, his well-known comedic talent buried beneath an ugly prosthetic nose and a cold and mysterious front. Jean Du Pont is part of the wealthiest family in America yet he has no friends and is isolated in his mansion surrounded by vast grounds. He attempts to ingratiate himself into the Olympic wrestling community using his money and builds up a relationship with Mark that is oppressive and abusive. He yearns for love and companionship, becoming not just a friend but also a sort of father figure to the younger wrestler, and yet he still tries to maintain an air of superiority, making himself out to be better through his money and power and this tugs at a darker and potentially violent part inside of him. He tries desperately to gain the affection from his cold mother, a weary and disappointed looking Vanessa Redgrave, even playing up in front of her as she ventures into the training room to see what is going on. Ultimately, this love starved, and possibly mentally ill man, reaches out for warmth but does not know what to do with it. He is constantly held back from anything real in his life, his former one friend and a win at his own wrestling match turning out both to having been paid for. Carell has been given the awards nominations for his performance but it is certainly a third in an on screen trio.
Channing Tatum holds the film on his shoulders, breaking free of the confines of his earlier roles to show some genuine and effective acting talent. His performance is all hunched shoulders and pushed out jaw, a man who was also raised without a proper parental unit and who struggles to convey any genuine warmth, even to his own family. He lives constantly in the shadow of his brother and even when he can step out of it, he struggles to handle the light on his own, sometimes even heading towards self-harm. Mark Ruffalo as the elder brother David, is a family man, caring of his brother and trying to raise a family in a story that is painted in dark strokes by Miller and his DoP Greig Fraser, the external landscape ridden with snow and cold scenery.
Miller plays no tricks as a director, never hitting the viewer in the face with special shots or editing, instead he lets the story play out at its own measured pace, and teases out the strong performances that pull you in to the story and the drama. The story is a serious one and even moments of potential brevity play out with an undercurrent of darkness, violence and perhaps desperation. Though Foxcatcher has a lengthy running time, it rarely drags and when the final dramatic incidents take place, a potentially well-known incident now, it is still shocking and distressing.
Foxcatcher is a sports film that is more interested in the psychological drama of abandoned men than the sport they take part in, looking into the strange relationship of a trio in this true life story. Dramatic and hypnotic, Foxcatcher is all about the performances.