Don’t be fooled by the poster and top billed cast, as Foxcatcher, Bennet Miller’s (Capote, Moneyball) true crime thriller, is far from what one would typically expect of a film starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo. If you’re looking for laughs, there are few to be had here, you’ll only find a twisted tale of psychological domination and broken families.
The film establishes it’s dreary tone early on, introducing us to world class wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his personal hell, forever doomed to lie in the shadow of his brother Dave (Ruffalo). When wealthy philanthropist and wrestling enthusiast John du Pont offers Mark a new training facility, along with a shot at the World Championships and a second Olympic Gold. Though their relationship begins innocently enough, the interactions between du Pont and Mark quickly devolve into a chilling pseudo-familial dom/sub dynamic. Further complications arrive with Dave accepting a position as du Pont’s assistant coach, bringing him back into the fold and further warping Mark’s psyche. As the two brothers attempt to mend their relationship and move Mark away from du Pont’s toxic influence, du Pont himself begins to act more and more irrationally, until everything peaks in a tragic end (I won’t spoil it, but these are events that actually happened, so a quick Google search will tell you what happens).
The most striking aspect of Foxcatcher is of course the unconventional casting decisions of Channing Tatum and Steve Carell. Though at first I was hesitant about each, considering Tatum’s current standing as Hollywood’s favorite dude-bro, and Steve Carell’s prolific resume in comedy, I was blown away by both performances. Tatum is presented far from the heartthrob of the silver screen that we have come to know and lover. Everything from the blunt, stilted responses that pepper his dialogue to the awkward wrestler gait and slouch throughout the film give a tremendous amount of depth to what could’ve been a simple character. Tatum’s portrayal is that of a man who is incapable of making decisions for himself, someone who is a pawn in everyone’s game, the fox that du Pont has always been trying to catch. Which brings us to the man himself, Steve Carell. You will not recognize Carell at all in this film. Gone are the jokey interplays and Michael Scottisms that made him famous. What we are left with is an off-putting, overly formal Machiavelli who dominates almost every scene that he is in. As a villain, DuPont functions exceptionally well, as one can’t help but to feel extremely uncomfortable about his entire person. The awkward, jerky movements, the heavy breathing, the eccentricities, weirdly intimate (bordering on homo-erotic) sparring with Mark, all of it adds up to a character who is a few henchmen short of a Bond villain, and we love him for it. The one criticism I have comes from the lack of insight towards his motivations, as the real du Pont was found to have suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, whereas Carell’s is just a wealthy, emotionally stunted obsessive. This is compounded by a subplot with his mother that didn’t really resonate with me, ultimately feeling extraneous. Rounding out the trio of stars is Mark Ruffalo, who is perfectly adequate. I could say more, but that’s about all there is to it, I didn’t find his performance to be as outstanding as Carell or Tatum’s (save for an astounding scene where Dave is being interviewed for a documentary on duPont ).
The cinematography in the movie is also of note. Instead of utilizing fancy camera tricks, a majority of the shots are static, evoking a sense of portraiture with each scene. And some of the wide shots are absolutely gorgeous, the rolling hills of the Foxcatcher ranch providing an almost surreal backdrop to the horrors within. In addition, the number of shots presented through windows was an interesting choice, adding a voyeuristic vibe to the film, and one that works exceptionally well in my opinion. Furthermore, the drab colors that pervade the story provide the perfect ambiance, one that is cold, eerie, and alone.
Finally the sound design of Foxcatcher is an interesting creature in and of itself. The score is intermittent and often absent, and when it does appear, it’s always booming strings and a haunting piano accompaniment. Though the music serves its purpose in escalating the mood, Foxcatcher is a film defined by its silences. There are so many pauses that punctuate the dialogue and action of the film, it’s a miracle that it worked as well as it did, but I loved every quiet moment.
Overall, Foxcatcher is a fine film. Will it go down as a classic? Probably not. Will it be well received by the Academy in the coming months? Also doubtful (save for Steve Carell, I would be shocked if he wasn’t nominated). Though it may suffer from lack of development in regards to du Pont’s character, any fan of true crime will be pleased with Foxcatcher.