So few true story-based films capture a descent percentage of the subject they are capturing. Even if it isn’t a true story, films like Whiplash don’t even come close to the pressures the students feel. So for a film like Foxcatcher to come out, it has to be on point. Bennett Miller’s latest directorial effort is a dark look into the world of the obsession to the a champion and the dangerous lengths some go through to stop being overshadowed by those greater than themselves. That dark and dismal atmosphere that surrounds the film only gets colder and colder as the film progresses. Thanks in part to powerful performances from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, and a nearly irreconcilable Steve Carell, Foxcatcher is one of the this year’s best.
Hit the jump for the full Foxcatcher review.
The film is based on the true story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), a gold winning Olympic Wrestler who wants to step out of his brother, Dave Schultz’s (Ruffalo) shadow. Mark is lured by the hypnotic words of John DuPont (Carell), a wealthy man who offers him the chance to train for the World Championships and the 1988 Olympics. While the two share a desire to win gold, they are unable to achieve what they actually are looking for. Even though Mark won a gold medal with his brother, he is constantly overshadowed by his brother who gets all the respect and acolytes. James is a man whose head is full of delusion. Unable to cope with their inner problems would lead to the tragic shooting death of Dave at the hands of a crazed James.
Foxcatcher is cold at best, but not for reasons that you may think. The limited dialogue gives the film a chilling demeanor, with characters not consternating for more than a few sentences. What we see more of is the motivation of each character driving themselves to meet their expectations. It becomes even more powerful to see when they fail to meet those expectations. And in a film about athletes striving to be champions, there are a lot of expectations.
The film doesn’t want to be a motivational piece like some of the other sports films are. Instead we dive a little deeper psychologically. We see how distant Mark is from the world itself. Elementary school kids don’t rush up to him for an autograph when he speaks at schools, the school administrator doesn’t even hold him in high respect as she is hesitant to sign a check that was actually suppose to go to his brother. He often eats alone, and people who prefer to talk to his brother Dave. Slowly we start to see how isolated Mark really is, and the kind of pain it is inflicting on him.
That is until he finds a connection in James. Not only do the two share the same drive to be champions, but John is constantly emasculated by his mother, who thinks she is not living up to the family name and that his obsession with wrestling doesn’t deserve her attention. Even when he wins a championship (which he doesn’t quite earn), his mother thinks his trophy doesn’t deserve to sit with the other prize winning horse trophies that she earned.
The emotional distance does take a toll on the audience as well. The characters are so cold to each other, and treat Mark as though he just a tool to win, forgetting about the fact that he is a human. John takes often takes advantage of Mark’s vulnerablity by making him say that he is the father that Mark has never had at public events. There are also times when James asserts his authority by treating Mark like an animal infront of the team. But when Dave officially comes into the picture, the situation only gets worse. The two are fight over Mark. Dave would often argue that he only knows what’s best for Mark, and as a result John is pushed out of the picture. This only adds more weight to the dangerous psychosis that John suffers from.
Foxcatcher is not meant to be the fluff piece we are accustomed to seeing in sports-releated films. It is down right depressing and sad. To watch these characters spiral into what they could not ultimately achieve may make you feel uneasy. But that the entire point that surrounds the sad story between these characters.
Tatum continues to prove why he is such a versatile actor. Jumping from comedies to dark dramas in such a short amount of time is absolutely incredible. I seriously cannot wait to see what he has up his sleeves, because if he can be as funny in films like 22 Jump Street but take command of a role like Mark Schultz in Foxcatcher, who knows where he will go next.
Carell is quite literally irreconcilable. You might think that with Carrel’s comedic background and Tatum’s rising stardom that they would first be paired in a comedy, but the chemistry between the two in Foxcatcher is chilling and very intriguing to watch. Carrel takes metaacting to a whole new level. He embodies John. He doesn’t let any of the makeup speak for the character, because Carrel let’s his actions determine that.
Ruffalo gets the job done. A family man, and a man who does look out for his younger brother. During the times we see Dave train with Mark over at the Foxcatcher ranch, we see him realize how much of a bad influence John is, and how he has to keep Mark’s attention on him, while trying to shun James. During desperate times it is Dave who comes to support Mark, whereas John wallows.
Foxcatcher is a character driven film. We don’t need to be engaged in what else is going on, Miller only wants us to be concerned about the characters, the relationships, and the inner struggles. Watching them being unable to achieve their goals, be driven by madness, and eventually fall from grace is undeniably hard, but as much as the truth hurts, the film shines on all fronts.