Some men earn respect and some men buy it. Foxcatcher is the weird and tragic story of wealthy eccentric John Du Pont’s (Steve Carell) obsession with the sport of Greco Roman Wrestling and how it lead him to recruit two of the USA’s greatest wrestlers, Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), to form a new base of operations for American wrestling out of his Foxcatcher ranch.
After winning Gold at the 1994 L.A Olympics, wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is stuck in the grind of training and living on the crumbs at his more established David Schultz’s (his brother – played by Mark Ruffalo) table. When the extremely wealthy John Du Pont (Steve Carell) offers to sponsor his training efforts if he’d base his wrestling team out of ‘Foxcatcher,’ it’s the opportunity to get out from his brother’s shadow that he’s been yearning for.
Writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman craft a script that really lives and dies on the delivery from the actors. Their ability to convey the character’s inner turmoils are what elevate the hollow words of Du Pont, the unsophisticated mutterings of Mark or David’s straight forward motivation. And although it was important to contextualise how these men crossed paths I found that beginning of Foxcatcher lacked narrative or directorial drive that it did once there was a more pronounced conflict between the characters.
Bennett Miller’s previous films behind the lens, Capote and Moneyball, have definitely informed his visual style in Foxcatcher. Like Capote, Foxcatcher has the sense that that we’re treading through painful memories and every space feels ominous. Mark’s cold damp apartment has more intimacy and warmth in its spartan totality than any part of the Foxcatcher ranch’s hallowed grounds, despite their opulence. Some of the most powerful scenes of Moneyball are when Miller focuses on Brad Pitt’s Billy Beane torturing himself in the gym while the fruits of his managerial labour are being reaped. His inability to agonise over the ‘chance’ of his calculations are felt in the self inflicted ‘work out’ punishment. Foxcatcher‘s wrestling set pieces are conceived to collapse the distance between you and Mark (and David) so that you’re living the intensity of the physical chess match. You’re up close and personal to the rag dolling.
Channing Tatum nails the wild neanderthal aspects of Mark. Raised railing in opposition to his much more accomplished brother David, he is a fierce intensity that when channelled correctly is focused on overcoming his opposition. However when nurturing is removed from the equation he’s unstoppably self destructive. Tatum dives into Mark’s mannerisms and twitches and gets to peak physicality in a more pronounced way than his previous action man roles. Sometimes a single scene can tie together a performance and Mark’s self sabotaging swan dive to rock bottom is a career best from Tatum. Binge eating, self mutilation, crumbling It immediately conjures the commitment of something like Marty Sheen’s amazing turn in the Saigon hotel in Apocalypse Now.
Steve Carell’s turn as John Du Pont has been receiving praise from the moment the film premiered in Cannes and rightly so. However I want to address the somewhat surprised tone to the praise that discounts his innate familiarity, as a comedic performer, with desperate loners who feel inadequate. His dexterity with vulnerability has what made his comedic characters so loveable or pitiable. Du Pont’s inferiority and beta masculinity is only fuelled by the fact that his family’s wealth is derived from munitions (insert projectile joke here). Du Pont is a tortured lonely man that lives in a world where one can buy respect. He’s almost affronted with understanding how to inspire, or to dig to places to find those extra gears that Ruffalo’s David does effortlessly.
The sublime performance of the film is Mark Ruffalo’s portrayal as David Schultz. Not only in the studied gate, quirky gestures but in a snake like reflexive moves that sells you on his tactical dominance and wrestling skill. With barely a raised voice he’s able to redirect the inertia of Mark’s volatility or absorb weird requests of Du Pont to get the best out of any given situation. He’s got the mind of the tactician, the heart of a warrior and the pragmatism of a father and everyman.
Foxcatcher is a calamitous tale, told with unforgettable performances and a melancholic restraint.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave