LFF: Foxcatcher

I am a Steve Carell fan. In fact, I’m a massive Steve Carell fan. I think he’s one of the best comic actors working today, and I also think that if you can do the subtle timing and ticks of comedy, you can do anything. So here comes Foxcatcher, a very awards-baiting film from Bennett Miller, director of Capote and Moneyball, about John duPont, the eccentric (to put it mildly) billionaire who funded a USA wrestling program in the 80s which ended in tragedy. Carell plays duPont, whilst Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play the Schultz brothers, both wrestling gold medallists, who get sucked into the madness of money and power at the Foxcatcher farms wrestling program.

Foxcatcher opens in the grey, depressing aftermath of success. Mark Schultz’s (Tatum) gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics doesn’t guarantee him anything; work, fame, friends. He lives a life that no one could envy – eating noodles in a one-room apartment, giving motivation speeches to 8-year-olds where people think he’s his brother Dave. Dave (Ruffalo) is the flip side of that coin. ‘Great’ Dave Schultz has family, friends and, crucially, people still care about his success. This is the tense set-up that creates the drama of Foxcatcher and Miller expertly choreographs it to all occur before we even get a sniff of Steve Carell’s John duPont. DuPont is no different from the audience – he recognises what’s happened to Mark and what the crucial difference is with Dave, and he wants ownership of their talent and success. Thus begins an almost-Grecian drama about pride, fraternity and the mad taint of patriotism.

Tatum continues to be a revelation (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) with a performance that is both muscular and graceful, but fiercely intelligent in its depiction of a successful man who cannot find his place in society. Tatum’s Mark is awkward, manipulable and very naive, and the perfect foil for his brother Dave who is kind, trusting and affable (who better to portray those qualities than Mark Ruffalo?). Into that mix is thrown Steve Carell’s duPont, who catalyses a confrontation between the Schultzes. DuPont owns Mark, but he really wants to own Dave, and the insidious way that his wealth and power seduces the brothers creates a three-hander where everyone wants success, but they all want it for different reasons, and in different ways. Carell gives a performance that highlights his comic talent but is also, at times, the most chilling, unsettling thing you’ll see onscreen this year. The film doesn’t explore duPont’s pathology, but that’s the point – duPont isn’t evil, but he’s profoundly confused, controlling and indulged beyond all sense and reason.

Foxcatcher is a ‘sports film’ in the loosest sense of the term. It swims between moments of black comedy, moments of horror (there are at least two moments that will make you jump) and its core genre, family tragedy. It’s a masterpiece of quiet, unshowy visuals, well-matched performances and a thematic arc that is imbued with such a sense of foreboding, that, even if you don’t know the ‘ending’ going in, you’ll feel the sense, in your shredded nerves, of what is going to happen. Miller’s previous work on Capote prepares you, somewhat, for the cold drama of Foxcatcher, but if you think that you know Miller’s work on a ‘sports film’ from Moneyball, prepare to be shocked. Foxcatcher is an icily thrilling family drama, which needs to be seen by more than just fans of The Office.

A pitch black study of obsession, Foxcatcher takes the family unit and exposes its family structures to the icy North American wind. Triumphantly unsettling.

Foxcatcher poster
5
Title: Foxcatcher
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller
Running time: Couple of hours
Certificate: 15

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