Writer: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller
Running time: 130mins
The lowdown: Intense account of Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz and their relationship with bizarre multimillionaire John Du Pont. Ambition, paranoia, delusion and control are Du Pont’s driving impulses and his vast wealth and skewed perception of human interaction set the stage for a particularly dark tale, captured with a clinical eye by Capote director Bennett Miller. Likely to be too remote for some, but the performances by Tatum and Ruffalo as the brothers and Carell as the unsettling Du Pont are faultless.
The full verdict: With pun fully intended, Foxcatcher is a movie to wrestle with.
Director Bennett Miller has fused his previous two biggest successes, Moneyball and Capote, for this true crime sports movie that puts the audience in a series of submission holds. And will have some tapping out.
Beginning in 1987, initial focus is on Olympic wrestling gold medalist Mark Schultz (Tatum), now reduced to signing on and delivering uninspiring talks at local junior highs.
Mark is in the shadow of big brother Dave (Ruffalo). Also a gold medal winning Olympian, Dave is likable, confident and a naturally gifted wrestler, whereas Mark is stand-offish, self-doubting and reliant on Dave’s strong coaching to win.
Into Mark’s life comes John Du Pont (Carell). Flying Mark to his palatial 800 acre Foxcatcher estate, Du Pont tells the awestruck wrestler he intends to fund his bid for Olympic greatness at Seoul ’88.
Cracks appear almost immediately as Mark informs Du Pont Dave has elected not to join them. “You can’t buy Dave”, Mark tells the baffled plutocrat.
Told with stark, detached visuals, Foxcatcher is one of the chilliest films you will see. Every scene is permeated with a disquieting coolness, Miller infusing the film with Du Pont’s alienated, anti-social awkwardness.
Come awards season, Carell may receive the recognition for an against-type, make-up heavy turn, but no-one puts a foot wrong (including Sienna Miller as Dave’s supportive wife and Vanessa Redgrave as Du Pont’s belittling mother).
Without hyperbole Tatum rivals De Niro’s Jake La Motta for his performance of a man unable to articulate his demons other than through physical action. With hunched shoulders, shuffling gait, and nose and gum prosthetics to flatten his features, Tatum becomes simian (and is pointedly referred to as “an ungrateful ape” by Du Pont when the rot sets in).
Balancing Mark is Dave, and after Zodiac and Just Like Heaven is the third time the instantly likeable Ruffalo has played someone with that instantly good-guy name.
Tatum and Carell get the attention grabbing damaged characters, but Ruffalo brings an essential light, lifting the film whenever he’s on screen. So it’s a relief when Dave agrees to relocate to Foxcatcher to coach the national wrestling team…
The initially absurd idea of Tatum and Ruffalo as brothers is dispelled early on when they spar. Fluid together, with a lifetime of support and competition conveyed in the grappling, everything you need to know about Dave’s relationship with Mark is captured in one perfect scene.
Then there is Du Pont. A fabulously wealthy sociopath, he is a man craving genuine recognition and acceptance after a lifetime of material gain and zero emotional support. Carell is attention-grabbing in the role, coupling the neediness of The Office’s Michael Scott with the darkness the actor Carell frequently brings to his big screen outings.
A past philatelist and ornithologist (two solitary hobbies), it is unsurprising Du Pont is obsessed with wrestling, a sport all about physical contact.
Despite awarding himself the nickname “Golden Eagle”, his sharp beak-life nose evokes imagery of a vulture as he circles the achievements of others to pick at the glory.
Inevitably, Du Pont covets Mark and Dave’s bond and competition success, using his wealth to establish himself as surrogate father, mentor and coach in a series of excruciating scenes, Mark responding wholeheartedly while Dave politely rebuffing the attempts as much as possible.
A happy ending is never on the cards and none of this can be called pleasant to watch. As the credits roll there is a sense of exhaustion akin to Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, a similar film on various levels.
But, it is an experience not easily forgotten by those who make it to the final bell.