Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Bennett Miller
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Vanessa Redgrave, Guy Boyd.
This bizarre story of the relationship between an Olympic wrestler and a psychopathic billionaire and philanthropist proves once again that the truth is often stranger than fiction.
Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum) was an Olympic champion wrestler who won a medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, along with his brother Dave (played by Mark Ruffalo). But because of the amateur nature of the sport back then, Mark was struggling to make ends meet financially. So he jumped at an opportunity when he was approached by billionaire John Du Pont (played by Steve Carell, cast against type here), the heir to the chemical company and family fortune. Du Pont fancied himself a wrestling enthusiast, and he had established a state of the art training facility on his sprawling Foxcatcher estate.
Du Pont offered Schultz the opportunity to train and prepare for the 1988 Olympics at this facility, alongside a number of other wrestlers. The catch was that Du Pont himself would be the head coach, despite a lack of qualifications. But, it seems, in Du Pont’s mind set money can buy virtually anything. But the relationship between Du Pont and Schultz eventually soured as the millionaire introduced the wrestler to drugs and his behaviour became more erratic. And his fixation with Schultz took on overtly homosexual tendencies.
Du Pont also managed to lure Dave to the estate to be his assistant coach in preparing his team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But when Dave saw the extent of the psychological damage inflicted on his brother by Du Pont’s overbearing and controlling manner, he tried to remove Mark from the unhealthy environment. Which had tragic consequences.
Sure, writer/director Bennett Miller (who gave us the biopic Capote and the true life sports drama Moneyball) takes some liberties with the story for dramatic purposes, and glosses over some important background detail. But Foxcatcher also explores some compelling themes, such as ambition, power, wealth, obsession, misguided masculinity, family, sibling rivalry, the need for acceptance, and twisted love, all of which makes for a dark and disturbingly compelling film. Foxcatcher is, arguably, Miller’s least accessible film to date, and will not appeal to everybody.
Written by Dan Futterman (Capote, etc) and E Max Frye (Where The Money Is), Foxcatcher is a character driven piece and a study of obsession. Miller directed Phillip Seymour Hoffman to an Oscar and Jonah Hill to an Oscar nomination, so he is obviously able to bring out the best in his cast. Here he draws solid performances from his three leads.
Tatum has a lumbering presence as the innocent and not too bright Schultz, and he brings a suitable physicality and a pent up aggression to his role. Ruffalo is almost unrecognizable here, as he seems to have bulked up somewhat, but he totally inhabits his character as the older, wiser and softly spoken brother who sets out to protect Mark from Du Pont’s malevolent and controlling presence. Sienna Miller (who is also in American Sniper) is also good, and seems to have deglamorized for her role as Dave’s supportive and sympathetic wife.
But the biggest surprise is the complex and superbly nuanced performance from Carell, better known for his comedic roles in tv shows The Office and films like Anchorman, etc, who is cast against type here in a very dramatic character role. He delivers a truly creepy and unsettling performance as the clearly delusional Du Pont. Carell effectively portrays the disintegrating mindset of Du Pont, an outsider who desperately craves affection and respect. He sports a prosthetic nose and strangely altered facial features that gives him a weird and unsettling look. And his voice is also somewhat creepy and unsettling. But this loner and outsider does elicit some reluctant sympathy from the audience, until Du Pont completely loses the plot and his behaviour spirals out of control into a murderous mindset.
We see the toxic relationship between Du Pont and his overbearing mother (veteran Vanessa Redgrave), the disapproving matriarch who thought that the sport of wrestling was unseemly. There is one cringe worthy scene where she appears in the training centre to watch her son desperately try to demonstrate his wrestling prowess, only to dismiss his efforts in cold and condescending fashion. Despite only being onscreen for a couple of scenes Redgrave has a looming presence that is felt throughout.
Miller maintains a slow and unsettling pace throughout, and imbues Foxcatcher with a dark and disturbing mood throughout. Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser (Last Ride, Zero Dark Thirty, etc) matches the tone, shooting in muted colours, giving the claustrophobic interiors of the Foxcatcher estate a vaguely malevolent feel.