Foxcatcher

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Bennett Miller

Starring

Channing Tatum Mark Ruffalo Steve Carell

Anticipation.

The story Bennett Miller has been waiting to tell since 2006.

Enjoyment.

Muscular performances match Miller’s solid direction.

In Retrospect.

A true crime drama with a twist.

Muscular machismo and misplaced American pride combine in this intense drama with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum.

Two brothers stand on a thick rubber mat. Heads bowed, shoulders forward, arms locked. Their heavy grunts and squeaking trainers set a nervous rhythm for the brutal ballet in which they are entwined. This is the image of brotherly love and rivalry presented by Bennett Miller in his rich, character-driven drama, Foxcatcher.

Like the writer/director’s previous films, Moneyball and Capote, this one is based on true events, although the facts have plainly been dramatised as a way to extract truth in what is a complex tale of loyalty, paranoia and betrayal. The two men entrenched in battle in that gripping opening sequence are Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Both are Olympic Champions, but while the former is the more impressive specimen, mentor Dave has the mental edge over his younger sibling.

He’s past his prime, slightly balding and cauliflower-eared, but he still emanates greatness. Despite his individual success, Mark has never been able to step out of his big brother’s shadow, and his pent-up anxiety and anger over a failure to assume alpha supremacy comes out in fits of concentrated self-punishment – in one disturbing early scene, Mark literally punches himself in the face.

Emotionally vulnerable and blinded by ambition, Mark accepts an out-of-the-blue invitation to meet with mega rich John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell, pitch perfect and near unrecognisable under an ugly prosthetic nose and emotionless grin). The heir to a chemical corporation fortune, du Pont brings Mark in by helicopter to his gleaming white mansion, set against the grand backwoods of Pennsylvania, and promptly propositions him with an offer that’s too good to refuse.

With the World Championships fast approaching and the 1988 Seoul Games on the horizon, du Pont reveals his plans to become the saviour of USA Wrestling, persuading Mark with his creepy charisma and state-of-the-art ‘Foxcatcher’ training facility he’s had custom-built on the property. With Mark’s trust paid for, Team Foxcatcher is born. But when Du Pont asks Dave to join them, his response presents Mark with an obvious question to which he has no answer: what’s the catch?

A self-proclaimed author, ornithologist, philanthropist, world explorer and “golden eagle of America”, du Pont loves two things: wrestling and his country. He spouts garbled constitutional rhetoric about the importance of patriotism and encourages Mark and the other young men he takes under his wing to ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. He’s a bullshit merchant. A bogus coach. A cuckolded right-wing millionaire with serious delusions of grandeur. And also, a desperately lonely man, possibly plagued by mental illness.

Even with his considerable investment and constant reaffirmations of faith, du Pont knows his bond with Mark will never be as strong as Dave’s. He watches the intensive daily training regimes from the sidelines, offering the odd stock motivational gesture, frustrated by Dave’s absence. Du Pont may be willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to change his mind, but Dave is a dedicated family man looking for a settled life.

But as we all know, every man has his price, and when du Pont finally brings Dave into his inner circle, the film shifts towards Greek tragedy — the abuse of wealth and power that first instilled Mark with the belief that he could finally achieve the status he craves suddenly becomes the catalyst for his gradual psychological breakdown.

In a bizarre twist, du Pont breaks every virtue he claims to exemplify, tempting Mark with drugs and leading him towards a life of excess. Is he purposely sabotaging his pet project, or just blissfully unaware of the damage he’s causing? Either way, he’s an unconvincing patriarch, and the brief but significant interference of his elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave) suggests that he too is driven by a need to prove that he is worthy of the proud legacy he has inherited.

As the three men grapple for control, the film builds steadily towards a violent conclusion, one that Miller subtly alludes to without revealing precisely how it will unfold. When the moment comes, you’ll be left saddened and confused by the image of one man laying face-down in the snow, silently gasping for his last mouthful of air. But Miller doesn’t leave us out there in the cold. He throws us right back into the ring, capping things off with a familiar, rousing chant that prompts us to reflect on the lies and propaganda that lead young Americans to sacrifice everything in the name of national pride.

Published 9 Jan 2015

Tags: Bennett Miller Channing Tatum Mark Rylance Steve Carell

Anticipation.

The story Bennett Miller has been waiting to tell since 2006.

Enjoyment.

Muscular performances match Miller’s solid direction.

In Retrospect.

A true crime drama with a twist.

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