Foxcatcher (2014)

So 2015 is finally here. The time that film fans have been waiting for ever since their first viewing of Back to the Future II showed us just how different life would be. Unfortunately, the strike of midnight didn’t open us up to a world of hoverboards, flying cars and shoes that lace themselves. Instead we’re looking at an even more unbelievable situation in which Channing Tatum, following in the footsteps of Matthew McConaughey and Mark Wahlberg before him, is slowly becoming one of the most consistently strong actors in Hollywood. I ignored him until I saw 21 Jump Streetand realised how funny and clever he could be. No longer just the hunky star of Step-Upand shitty rom-coms, I embraced the Tates… even though there has been something fucking weird going on with his face of late. As a person who always goes where the hype is, I’ve been looking forward to his latest film, Foxcatcher, for ages. Some of you may remember that New Year’s Day 2014 saw me watching Anchorman2 because it was all my hungover state could handle. This year, my New Year’s Eve was a much more sophisticated affair so I felt I could handle a better class of film.

Foxcatcheris the latest film from director Bennett Miller and it tells the true story of Olympic wrestlers David and Mark Schultz and their relationship with the eccentric and sinister billionaire John Eleuthère Du Pont. It is a tragic-tale concerning rivalry and the awful lengths people will go to in order to carve a reputation for themselves. Mark (Channing Tatum) and David (Mark Ruffalo) share a strong brotherly bond but are still rivals on the wrestling circuit. Despite both winning an Olympic gold, Mark finds himself consistently in the shadow of his more successful, likeable and social adept older brother. Mark has found a comfortable post-Olympics life, making a living as a wrestling coach and raising a family with his wife (Sienna Miller). On the other hand, Mark lives a quiet and lonely life in a dingy flat and surviving on fast-food and Ramen noodles.
That is until he is contacted by John Du Pont (Steve Carell) and offered the chance to move out to Foxcatcher Farm. Du Pont’s dream is to create a world-class training facility at his family’s Pennsylvania estate, which will serve the entire American team prior to the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark embraces Du Pont as a stand-in father and mentor but, it quickly becomes clear that Du Pont is only interested in getting Dave on board as well. Dave’s imminent arrival at Foxcatcher Farm causes a ripple affect that promises to uproot all three men’s lives.
Thanks to some amazing direction and some unexpected and fucking brilliant casting, Foxcatcherhas been creating Oscar buzz long before it came out. However, in the midst of all the hype there has been the usual smattering of negativity. The film has been written off by some for lacking depth and, whilst I’m not stubborn enough to write off Miller’s entire work, I can sort of see why some people are pissed off. The script is pretty fucking subtle and a great deal of emphasis is placed on the acting and not words to get the message across. Miller’s direction favours silence and stillness so it can feel like the story isn’t always moving forward and there are plenty of scenes that seem to drag on for fucking hours. However, all of this is just an indulgence that the film can afford to partake in. The moments of peace and quiet only help to build the tension before the tale’s inevitable tragic end. An atmosphere which is allowed to flourish thanks to Greig Fraser’s cinematography, which has clouded the whole thing in a chilling and hostile haze thanks to the desaturated colours. 
The film may go through a bit of shaky ground but it is successfully anchored by some superb performances. Offering an intense performance, Tatum holds back on the frat boy charm that has worked in his favour so far. Schultz is a lumbering, socially awkward jock. With plenty of focus on the sport, Tatum’s performance relies heavily on physical action rather than wordy exchanges but he manages to get his point across. Mark is a lonely man who feels overlooked in his field and is torn between love and resentment for his older brother.
An older brother who possesses the charm and affection that Mark so sorely lacks. Mark Ruffalo portrays Dave with control and a great deal of compassion. Dave loves Mark and wants nothing more than to keep him happy and safe. Ruffalo flourishes in the still, quiet nature of Miller’s direction and is the most capable at depicting the emotional subtext of the script. As good as Tatum and Carell are, it is Ruffalo that really gets to grips with what Miller and co. have in mind.
However, Ruffalo is consistently fucking wonderful so it’s comedian Steve Carell who has been receiving the majority of the press. And so he should. Underneath the mountain of prosthetics that adorns his face, the actor gives an effective performance and one taken on without a hint of caricature. Bottom line here, Carell is fucking creepy. Du Pont’s is forever watched by his disapproving mother (a wonderful but barely seen Vanessa Redgrave). John, in a manner that would make even Norman Bates blush, is eager to impress her but is never able to convince her of the sport’s merits.

Despite the real Mark Schultz’s recent outcry concerning the homoerotic implications this film makes about his relationship with Du Pont, I didn’t think there was that much to worry about. The film flirts with Du Pont’s apparent sexual attraction to his wrestlers but it certainly doesn’t warrant all of the comparisons being make to Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Du Pont is in no way a hooked-nosed Liberace and Schultz has very little connection to Scott Thorson. 

If nothing more, Du Pont is the perfect way for Miller to satirise the moneyed classes and their dangerous patriotism and unflinching sense of entitlement. Although when it comes down to it, the filmmakers aren’t keen to make any overt statements about Du Pont’s character. Is he suffering from mental illness or is he just a fucking psychopath? So, yes, the skilled craftsmanship that went into creating Foxcatcheris worthy of all its praise but there is, annoyingly, something lacking.  

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