On the Silver Screen – Foxcatcher

Jan 10, 2015 | Posted by in Movies

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher adapts the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) being taken under the wing of a strange and dangerous sponsor named John du Pont (Steve Carell).

Before going into the screening I knew almost nothing about the truth behind the story and that’s probably the best way to approach this film. I was able to appreciate the story as told and feel the appropriate level of surprise and shock when it reached the inevitable conclusion.

The focus of the film is on exploring the psychosis of Carell’s du Pont. It’s not something that develops as such given that his isolationist lifestyle prior to the audience meeting him has already made him about as insane as he can get. When he meets Tatum’s Mark Schultz it finally gives him an outlet for his obsessive nature and manifests itself as something really unsettling. Steve Carell’s performance is fantastically nuanced and oddly magnetic as the quietly insane multi millionaire. Audiences will be more familiar with Steve Carell’s comedy roles and the persona that comes with him but it has been proven in the past that he can take a dramatic role and turn it into something impressive. One such notable example is his performance in Little Miss Sunshine, a film that has stuck with me through the years.

FoxcatcherIn Foxcatcher, makeup causes Carell to look almost shark like and makes his face nigh on unrecognisable. Beyond that his performance is another thing that makes him unrecognisable. His muted tone and sinister lower register voice create a character that is really unsettling to watch. It’s very clear from the first moment he is seen that he probably should be avoided.

There’s a high level of insecurity to his character as the heir to a fortune earned by people smarter, shrewder and more respected than he’ll ever be. His obsession with flags, guns eagles and general tough guy machismo as well as a desire to be accepted by his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) comes up a few times and seems to form the root of his psychosis due to his inability to grasp the true meaning of these concepts and treat them in a realistic way. He seems to think that throwing his money behind the American wrestling team aiming for gold at the next Olympics will earn him the notoriety he feels his family name deserves.

His choice to accomplish this is Channing Tatum’s former gold medalist Mark Schultz who trains with his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) to try and fulfill his own aspirations of getting gold at the next Olympics. Mark is established as letting the gold medal he does have define him by giving him self worth. His insecurities make him an easy target for du Pont’s bottomless checkbook and promises of international stardom.

Mark is characterised as being a little dumb and easily manipulated. He takes all of du Pont’s offers at face value and puts up with the unacceptable behaviour thrown his way. Things like du Pont waking him up in the middle of the night to train or just because he can’t sleep or the latent homosexual attraction that clearly exists. Tatum plays this part really well, telling a lot with his eyes and facial expressions as well as having an air of discomfort surrounding his character. Something about him seems a little damaged and therefore not the easiest person to watch. I did feel a little disturbed at seeing him objectified by du Pont but I also felt that he could have been doing more to discourage it.

The ever underrated Mark Ruffalo is fantastic in this film as Mark’s brother David. He’s much more level headed than his brother and takes care of him due to his greater understanding of how the world works. Mark definitely needs to be protected and David does that. Their sibling relationship is slightly strained by the fact that David is the more talented athlete and Mark feels like he is constantly living in his brother’s shadow. David’s ability to be a good judge of character means that he is never fooled by du Pont in the slightest. He goes along with the insanity out of a desire to protect Mark from this clearly diseased mind but his inability to truly handle the situation ultimately proves to be his downfall.

Foxcatcher has a lot going on both on and below the surface. The unsettling tone clearly establishes that there will be no happy ending here and that it’s slowly building to an inevitable conclusion. Miller creates a really tense and foreboding atmosphere that is constantly uncomfortable to watch. Music is seldom used in the film and only adds to the quiet discomfort being experienced by both the characters and the audience. I liked that the situation was presented more factually without any conclusions being drawn by the narrative in order to horrify the audience more effectively as well as encourage the viewer to draw their own conclusions and form their own opinions.

Unfortunately the consequences of the events boil down to a wall of text telling the audience what happened next which robs the film of some of the dramatic payoff that it was building to. I would have liked to see more of the aftermath of the situation but perhaps that is a personal thing rather than a flaw with the story as such.

  • 9/10
    Foxcatcher - 9/10


A powerfully constructed narrative with fantastic performances telling a really unsettling story. I don’t know how accurate the film is to the true historical events but what appears on screen is really great.

Steve Carell becomes almost unrecognisable in this film with his shark like makeup and heavily altered vocals creating a character like none he has ever played before. He absolutely nails his portrayal of John du Pont and will probably be one of the most memorable performances of the year.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo also turn in stellar career defining performances as wonderfully nuanced characters who help with the exploration of the psychosis of du Pont. The contrast between Tatum’s Mark being easily manipulated and Ruffalo’s David never being fooled but eager to protect his brother effectively helps to drive the story forward.

The core of the film is the exploration of John du Pont’s long existing insanity as it finds a focus in Mark. Through a very deliberate pace the audience is immersed in the unsettling atmosphere created and forced to wait until the story reaches the inevitable conclusion.

From a story point of view I feel the dramatic payoff is somewhat robbed from the film by ending on a wall of text informing the viewer what happens next. I would have much rather seen a more defined resolution but this is a very small criticism of an otherwise excellent film.

User Review
0 (0 votes)