Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Written by Max Frye and Dan Futterman
The subtle depth charge that is Foxcatcher is so not because of the riveting story it tells; the story is a matter of public record. Billionaire John Du Point murdered a wrestler in 1966 on his mother’s 200 acre Pennsylvania property Foxcatcher.
The film’s power is due to masterful filmmaking, the incredible sophistication of director Miller’s vision, and the script written by Max Frye and Miller’s frequent partner, television actor Dan Futterman. The outstanding performances by Carrell and Tatum are powerful through restraint and subtlety. The film’s is a marvel of characterisation, tension, atmosphere and cinematic value.
John du Pont was one of those du Ponts, old money, influence, himself a published author and ornithologist, conchologist, philatelist, coach, sports enthusiast and oddball. Steve Carrell plays du Pont in a bold and brilliant departure from comedy, bringing menace to the screen as an obsessive, paranoid wrestling coach who put together a team to train for the 1988 Olympics.
The members led by Mark Schultz (Tatum) studied wrestling, swimming, track, and the pentathlon under du Pont’s watchful eye. He singled out Schulz and set him up in his own cabin on the property. He would show up in the middle of the night to discuss wrestling, treat the other members as lesser people and grant him special favours.
Schulz is uncomfortable but because he is finally being paid the attention he lacks in real life, begins to feel less an unemployed loser. The chance to excel at something drives him forward, so he puts up with du Pont’s weird demands. His brother Dave (Ruffalo), another champion wrestler, has always been Mark’s inspiration. Dave is married with children and unwilling to relocate to train for the Olympics, but he’s concerned about his brother’s life at Foxcatcher. So he shows up.
Miller dares to let in a lot of quiet. The rural setting is quiet, wrestling is quiet, and a man preying on another man is quiet. The quiet is not as bucolic as you want it to be. It’s fraught with gloom and stinks of bad things to come, not just a certainty but a constant threat. It has a choking effect, a tension that is claustrophobic – even within 200 acres – only heightened by du Pont’s ubiquitous, needy presence.
Channing Tatum is a talented man. He is brilliant in comedy and here, in the most dramatic of dramas, he’s perfect. He’s frightened yet he’s a big muscular wrestler, he’s subtle and careful. Watchful. Carrell is chillingly good as the sadistic, clearly mad billionaire. Vanessa Redgrave plays his mother Jean du Pont, and she is the only thing that frightens him. He begs her to watch his team wrestle but she finds it a “low” entertainment which devastates him and launches him to his destiny.
There is so much to see and experience in Foxcatcher. Miller and Futterman worked together on the excellent 2006 biopic Capote which won Best Picture and Best Actor for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Foxcatcher is at least as good.