Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)
Ignore the title – this has nothing to do with foxes. And don’t be turned off when you hear this is a film about wrestlers. Foxcatcher is a captivating film based on a true story about a disturbed philanthropist, made by a very talented director and featuring some phenomenal performances – all boxes ticked! Bring it!While there are reportedly many liberties taken with this version of ‘true’ events, Foxcatcher claims to tell the true story of world champion wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his coach and mentor John du Pont (Steve Carell + prosthetic nose). The heir to a multimillion dollar empire and a wrestling enthusiast, John du Pont recruited Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) to train at Foxcatcher, his own wrestling facility. An unusual relationship unfolds, culminating in a tragic finale. You may or may not be aware of what transpires, and I felt somewhat bummed about already knowing as it eliminated the shock value. However, one could argue that the film as a whole is a more satisfying experience if you know what’s coming.
Bennett Miller, who has previously directed two other highly acclaimed films based on true stories – Capote and Moneyball, is spot on with his direction here. The pacing may be too slow for some, but the content is so rich that it can be utterly mesmerising to watch these characters in motion. Steve Carell’s du Pont speaks slowly and softly – a trait that would be irritating in real life but only adds to the tension here. He is chilling to the bone. The prosthetic nose seems a bit overstated, and no doubt the haters will claim this was only included to boost Carell’s awards chances, but it may also be necessary to hide that face we all know and love. He may have seemed like an unusual choice for the role, but he nails it. I’m not sure whether Channing Tatum also had a prosthetic nose, or if it was just his normal face, but he is cast perfectly as the broody and brutish Mark, and proves himself as more than just a hot bod (but yes, he takes his top off). The most dazzling gem in the piece, however, is Mark Ruffalo. He is an exquisite beast. His portrayal of Dave Schultz is heart-breaking, with the mannerisms (including a cringe-inducing beard pulling habit) down to a tee. Fast becoming one of my favourite actors, I just want to meet him and give him a hug. He seems like the kind of guy who would be responsive to that.
Vanessa Redgrave as John’s mother, Jean du Pont, is terrifying in her disapproval, and brought to mind the relationship between Norman Bates and his mother (even though we never saw her in Psycho). If there’s one obvious thing to be learnt from this tale, it is that if you are a cold-hearted bitch towards your child, they will end up a deeply disturbed individual. Redgrave appears in only a handful of scenes, but this relationship is portrayed solidly, and also goes a small way to provoking some sympathy for John. The other female player is Dave’s wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller) and it is perplexing that they would even bother with a star for what is a very minor role. It’s possible her role was significantly cut from the original four hour edit (the finished film is 139 minutes).
The motives of the lead characters remain largely ambiguous, which may leave some viewers feeling frustrated. However, in reality there is still limited understanding of John du Pont’s motives, and Miller does well not to jump to conclusions. There is much that can be inferred from Foxcatcher – such as John’s sexuality – but Miller leaves this up to the viewer by merely hinting at such things. The real Mark Schultz has recently lambasted the film (but only after he read some film critics’ interpretations, long after seeing the film himself) for distorting true events. It is unclear whether this is simply to protect a carefully cultivated image, but it doesn’t hurt to take this story with a grain of salt.
Regardless of how closely Foxcatcher portrays true events, it is a fascinating piece of work that has much to say about wealth, ambition, patriotism, and the loneliness of a man who had everything handed to him on a plate. It may prove too slow-moving for some, but if you can handle dark and broody subject matter, and you’re after some damn fine performances, this is well worth the time.