Originally published on The National Student on 08/01/15.
The sports movie: arguably one of Hollywood’s most over-used genres, churning out the same repetitive stream of audience-friendly underdog tales since Rocky first made it big in the ‘70s.
From boxing to basketball, America has almost seen them all, except of course for wrestling. Quite possibly one of the most under-appreciated and overlooked olympic sports in the world, the term ‘wrestling’ usually prompts images of well-kept muscle-men with silly names, gallivanting around in spandex and throwing chairs at each other. Bennett Miller’s latest film however, will certainly leave a different image on the brain entirely.
Delving deep into the world of competitive wrestling during the lead-up to the 1988 olympic games, Foxcatcher chronicles the morphing relationships between world-beating hopeful Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and elusive millionaire investor John du Pont (an oddly cast and unrecognisable Steve Carell). When the ambitious Mark receives a call from du Pont asking him to join the ranks of his prestigious new wrestling team, he jumps at the chance, but soon after leaving for the mysterious millionaire’s country-locked mansion, Mark begins to discover that all is not quite as expected, and that du Pont may not be the kind and free-thinking man he initially thought him to be.
It’s no secret that since its Cannes debut, Foxcatcher has been draped in Oscar-buzz. Within hours of even just the film’s trailer premiering online, every blog, newspaper and entertainment outlet this side of Siberia was putting their money on Steve Carell’s transformative turn for the Best Actor gong, and in all honesty they wouldn’t be wrong. Carell’s approach to du Pont is fearless; it’s a fiendishly intense and unnerving role that easily deserves all of the awards and acclaim that likely sits just around the corner. However, this isn’t to say that Carell’s is the finest performance of the year or even, the finest in the movie. Such an accolade is in fact won by a far more subtle and affecting turn by Channing Tatum, of all people.
The former rom-com friendly beefcake appears here as more bear than man, quietly ferocious in even just his stance. Tatum’s take on the olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (arguably Foxcatcher’s actual lead) is deeply unnerving from an emotional angle. A largely repressed man, when the sparks begin to fly and he finally explodes, the film actually becomes quite difficult to watch. Whereas Ruffalo’s Dave Schultz is a largely warm and encouraging force, Tatum’s Mark is quite the opposite: destructive, unpredictable and often rather heartbreaking, making Foxcatcher into a distinctly ugly film.
Although such an unpleasant tone is expertly handled by Bennett Miller, a veteran of such moods, it does also make Foxcatcher a somewhat troublesome watch. This is a film that’s defined by its characters, with every layer of story existing solely to develop them. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as Miller’s pacing remains decidedly slow for almost the film’s entire running time, certain sequences do begin to feel rather sluggish and many seem to drag quite relentlessly. When the three leads are giving it their all (which is thankfully most of the film), this isn’t so noticeable, but between these moments of magic, the cracks really begin to show and without the entertainment factor to fall back on, Foxcatcher sometimes starts to become something of an emotional drain.
Deservedly firing its way onto the shortlists for many of the industry’s top awards, Foxcatcher is an exceptional slice of psychological drama, headed up by two of the year’s top performances. This is an incredibly well-crafted and effective piece of work which demands praise, but also one that bleeds its audience of any sense of happiness. Difficult, but ultimately worth it in the name of cinema.
Foxcatcher (2014), directed by Bennett Miller, is released in UK cinemas on 9th January 2015 by Entertainment One. Certificate 15.