Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall
Written by: E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
Running Time: 129 mins
Release date: 9th January 2015
If you decide to see Foxcatcher and you don’t know anything about the story, then try not to read up before entering the cinema. You’ll then get to really appreciate this slow-burning psychological drama that is more interested in character than content and has three outstanding performances, one especially surprising.
Mark Schultz is an Olympic gold medalist wrestler who has always been in the shadow of his elder brother, Dave. When Mark is offer the opportunity to lead a new wrestling team by billionaire John Du Pont, he immediately accepts. A bond starts to grow between the athlete and the coach but secretly, Du Pont wants Dave to join. As they slowly head towards the Olympic trials in 1988, Du Pont gets his wish and has Dave on board, building tension between the three men.
Like his previous film, the underrated Money Ball, director Bennett Miller has given us a film about a sport which actually isn’t about sport. So where Money Ball is not a baseball movie, Foxcatcher is not about wrestling. It’s about three men in a strange menage et trois. Mark, a large, bruising figure of a man, longing for the same recognition as his brother, who also won an Olympic gold yet has been training Mark for years. Dave, a man whose life seems so perfect: a doting wife, two loving kids and a glowing reputation. Finally Du Pont, a quietly spoken man who longs to be regarded as a father figure more than an Olympic coach.
Miller delivers a slow moving yet intense film that is underplayed and understated throughout. No intrusive music score, no scenes of yelling and shouting to get our attention. Just quietly moving along, allowing the tension to build, which it does incredibly effectively. This is a film full of impending menace. You are never too sure which way it’s going to go, never certain how it’s going to play out.
The characters are so beautifully drawn out, so we fully understand their motives and their relationships. The scene in which Mark and Dave wrestle tells more about their relationship than any dialogue heavy scene and it is a credit to Miller’s direction and the two leads that this is such an affecting and pivotal scene, yet not a word is uttered.
The tension between the three men is almost unbearable. Mark’s jealousy is bubbling under the surface. Du Pont’s consistently demanding attention, being the central figure, always controlling while Dave seems entirely oblivious to anything. Although slightly overlong, it heads for its shocking finale with a quiet sense of pure satisfaction.
The three leads are impeccable. Channing Tatum, who a few years ago I considered as interesting as a lump of wood has made me eat my words. Ever since the brilliant Magic Mike, he has continuously surprised and delivered some terrific performances. Here as Mark, he is dark and brooding and letting his muscles do the talking. Mark Ruffalo, as Dave, is superb. A gentle man who cares for his brother and wants the best for him, it’s a refined performance that you would expect from one of the screen’s best kept secrets.
The real surprise comes in the form of Steve Carell as Du Pont. Completely unrecognizable, he delivers a character that is sympathetic, emotionally unbalanced, quietly insecure and a man on the verge of evil. Always looking to self promote and be more important than he is, he lives under the shadow of his domineering mother, who even paid someone to be his friend, Carell physically becomes this eccentric individual. It’s a long way from what we are use to seeing Carell do and hopefully we can now forget Evan Almighty and Dinner For Schmucks ever existed.
Foxcatcher does not rush to get to its ending, instead slowly builds until your heart cannot take anymore. It’s a masterclass is control from all involved and even though it could have been 15 minutes shorter, it’s still a very impressive drama indeed.