Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is a dark and clinical psychological drama about John du Pont ill-fated attempt to build his own Olympic wrestling team. Steve Carell plays the eccentric millionaire as an emotionally stunted man filled with demons. Born into the vast wealth of du Pont family, he never had to work for anything, but he was eager to create a US wrestling team as a way of earning respect from his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and his country. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play Mark and Dave Schultz, two gold medal winning olympians who du Pont targets as a way of achieving dreams. This triangulated relationship plays out in an odd fashion and ends with fatal results.
Foxcatcher (the name of Pont’s sprawling Philadelphia estate and the team) plays out like a love story as the relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont is at its core. This isn’t a physical relationship (at least not in the homosexual sense) – it’s about two men who feel like the world is against them coming together over a common interest in wrestling. Both men are also jealous over their relationship with Ruffalo’s character, with Tatum’s Mark Schultz angry at du Pont’s need for him to co-coach the team, while du Pont knows that he’ll never be able to beat the bond the two brothers share.
Like the central characters, Foxcatcher is a film that lacks a traditional sense of emotion. Dialogue takes a backseat to carefully composed visuals and friendships and bonds are shown by wrestling moves and back-slaps. Miller carefully composes the film, shooting it with a bleak starkness. In doing so, he creates a coldness that permeates the film, giving the characters and events an uneasiness. This is heightened by Rob Simonsen’s score that Miller combines with Greig Fraser’s cinematography to deliver an offbeat, testosterone-fused ballet.
Everyone scores on an acting level (Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo both got Academy Award nominations for their performances). Carell is unrecognisable as du Pont, with prosthetics covering his features but its the poise and vocal stylings that also transform him into the emotionally cold millionaire. Tatum gives Mark Schultz the right balance of physical brawn and mental weakness that helps to show how he was seduced by du Pont and his world. Ruffalo is the only character with any hint of emotion. He’s also the smartest – he knows that something isn’t quite right with the situation that du Pont has created but his love for his brother and eagerness to succeed draws him into the the millionaire’s orbit.
Bennett Miller’s film is uneasy but compulsive viewing. It’s a layered piece of filmmaking with rich performances which get under the skin and help shed light on a creepy true-life tale.
Documentaries show how Bennett Miller and the actors delved into creating Foxcatcher with input from the real-life Mark Schultz and Dave Schultz’s wife Nancy (played by Sienna Miller in the film). Fascinating stuff.