Director: Bennett Miller Actors: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman Country: USA Runtime: 133 min Rating: 14A
Film director Bennett Miller may be best known for his 2011 Oscar-nominated work Moneyball, which looked at the sport of baseball from an unexpected perspective and introduced audiences to the statistical analysis behind the game. Now, in his new film Foxcatcher (2014), Miller tackles the sport of wrestling and the true story of Mark and Dave Schultz and their fated relationship with John du Pont. The result is an atypical, genre defying film that continues with Miller’s tradition of focusing on new angles as opposed to action-packed sports scenes, and that could almost be described as a sports-thriller.
Brothers and former Olympic wrestling champions Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) live very different lives after the Games. While Mark struggles to continue his wrestling career, returning home to an empty apartment after training each day, Dave has moved on to coaching and enjoys spending time with his loving family. It therefore comes as no surprise that when multi-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) approaches the brothers and offers to coach them for the next Olympics at his estate, only Mark agrees, and the further Mark becomes integrated into du Pont’s bizarre world, the more he begins to realize that something is not entirely right. Dave is eventually convinced to join the team and utterly destroys the controlled atmosphere that the paranoid du Pont has created, to disastrous results.
Dave and Mark are compelling yet very different characters, and the personality traits of each become all the more magnified when set against those of the other. Tatum and a virtually unrecognizable Ruffalo both perform their parts well, but the real acting star here is Carell. Du Pont is a subtly repellent character, and it is difficult to determine just what it is about him that unsettles. Carell uses nuanced vocal inflections and facial expressions to craft a character on which it is impossible to place one’s finger, and it was exciting to see this talented actor perform in a challenging dramatic role and more than rise to the occasion.
Foxcatcher is a slow-burning film that reveals its mysteries in its own time, and although it does begin to feel long at times, it steadfastly commits to building its atmosphere. The film focuses much more highly on the psychology of its three main characters than on action sequences, and ends up as more of a brother relationship drama than a cut-and-dry action flick. That being said, the film depicts the sport in a manner that does not dwell on technicalities but still provides sufficient understanding of its processes. A final element worth mention is the haunting score that accompanies the film, creating an ever-present sense of dread and elevating the work into the realm of tragedy.
Foxcatcher is a unique sports film in that it places its focus much more on the mind than on the body. This movie reveals its mysteries gradually, and in a manner that leaves one with a indistinguishable sense that all is not as it should be. It is especially gripping for one unfamiliar with the Schultz and du Pont story, and is all the more shocking due to its truth. Foxcatcher succeeds not only due to a trio of strong, transformative lead performances, but also due to the director’s atypical and fearless approach.