Foxcatcher

UK Release Date 9th January 2015
Director Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carell
Runtime 129 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 11th January 2015

I caught Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball)’s latest somewhat despite myself at last year’s LFF. A drama based on a true story I’d never heard of, revolving around the world of professional wrestling, it stood out predominantly due to an almost unrecognisable Steve Carell in the central role. Suffice to say, I was glad a got over myself and pressed on with it. 

A presumably much better known tale on the other side of the Atlantic (let’s be honest, wrestling isn’t exactly a national pastime over here), Foxcatcher is based on the true story of American billionaire and heir John du Pont (Steve Carell), who, amongst other things decided to establish his own wrestling facility for team USA in order for them to replicate their showing from 1984 at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Du Pont picks up down at heel gold winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a man struggling to make ends meet after a successful showing, along with his brother Dave (here played by Mark Ruffalo) at the 1984 Olympics. Dave has transitioned better following his success, now a family man happily coaching wrestlers. Mark spends his time scratching for cash by speaking in schools and has seemingly abandoned any ambitions for future Olympic success.

The arrival of billionaire du Pont into Mark’s life brings with it a wealth of possibilities for the young wrestler but also a wealth of suspicion and he is soon seduced by the helicopter rides and the stunning training facilities put together at du Pont’s mansion. Du Pont is clearly a man desperate to put his family's famous name to something he can claim as his.

Carell's du Pont is absolutely Oscar bait but that shouldn't detract from what is an astonishing transformation. Pale, slightly overweight and puffy of face, Carell is borderline unrecognisable. His du Pont is mortifyingly lonely, spoilt and forever in the shadow of his elderly mother. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance, du Pont is both comedic and tragic and Carell keeps him buttoned up perfectly. One minute obsessing over the branding of his team, the next creepily suggesting nicknames for his protege to use for him, he teeters brilliantly between hugely sympathetic and mentally unstable, we are never sure how quite to take du Pont and this builds a palpable tension whenever the character is interacting with anyone. 

Once he recruits Schultz to his team, the two make a horribly dysfunctional pair. One, cowed under the weight of loneliness brought about by unimaginable wealth, the other forever feeling beholden to a caring brother and fellow wrestler who brought him up from a child. Tatum plays his taciturn charge well, a combination of impressive wrestling prowess and childlike dependancy. His pent up, frustrated ambition chimes with du Pont’s neediness making a dangerous relationship. And in the less showy (in an already unshowy movie) role of the reliable, well adjusted brother, Ruffalo is perfectly at home. Bulked up and thoroughly bearded, his Dave is the stoic, almost overbearing role model in young Mark’s life. It’s a difficult role given the power of the central two but Ruffalo is more than capable for it and his Dave is the emotional, family led core as the darkness swirls around.

Miller plays his hand in this movie in a very careful way. Everything is amped up but somehow muted, there is so much repressed, bubbling under the surface that an explosion seems inevitable, even for those unfamiliar with the horrible climax. The wrestling bouts between the two brothers, often used as a substitute for language, are tense, low key affairs. The two men circling like repressed apes, sizing each other up before grappling almost elegantly with each other. It’s a powerful metaphor for the emotions that neither man can properly verbalise.

Despite its Oscar worthy ambitions, Foxcatcher is certainly not a showy movie. At its heart it's a story of crushing loneliness, even amongst a tight knit family. It has little to offer beyond its three main characters - Sienna Miller is given almost nothing to do as Dave’s wife and although hugely significant to the plot, we get to see very little of Vanessa Redgrave as Jean du Pont, but that's not entirely a criticism. This is a movie not afraid to take its time and one that avoids showy set-pieces to its absolute credit. Miller has crafted an impressively tense atmosphere and, particularly if you aren’t familiar with the real life events that this is based on, a movie that will shock you out of your seat. 

Check out the trailer here.

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