Logline: Mark Schultz, a Gold Medal winning Olympic wrestler, is drawn into the strange world of wealthy John Du Pont, when he agrees to train at Foxcatchers facilities, ultimately with tragic consequences.
Genre: True Story/Sports/Thriller
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Mark Rufalo, Sienna Miller
Director: Bennett Miller
I guess the most talked about aspect of Foxcatcher is the break out performances of it’s two main actors. They both give unusual and subtle portrayals of their characters, much unlike their previous roles comedic or action roles, demonstrating a depth and talent just waiting to be tapped.
The film revolves around Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, a gold medal winning wrestler, who trains with his brother David, also a champion. Mark is approached by Du Pont, who invites him out to his property called Foxcatcher, where he lives with his mother and has his own wrestling gym. He feeds Mark a lot of patriotic speeches about America, the Olympics and wrestling. Mark is drawn in, and moves out to the ranch to start being sponsored and train for the next Olympics, but there is a creeping sense of something quite unsettling about Du Pont. David, who is also invited to accompany his younger brother, refuses to go until much later when he senses that things are not alright with his brother.
It’s an interesting film, as a whole, because it’s sort of a sports movie, but sort of a thriller, but not really either. Perhaps it’s best described as a drama, because the emotions of all the participants drive the narrative, largely the desire to attain a personhood otherwise denied to them. This is seen most obviously in John Du Pont, played by Steve Carrell in the best performance of his career. This man possesses everything, and yet has nothing, at one point telling a story about how his only true friend in life was actually paid to hang out with him by his mother. He is desperate to fit in with the wrestling team, but he also seems to view them in somewhat the same light that his mother views her beautiful horses, as a different species. Mark, on the other hand, seems to be what Du Pont wants. He is an athlete, he has a brother who genuinely loves and supports him. He gets along well with the other members of the wrestling team. Mark, however, is a very internal character. His brother David seems to be the only person who really knows what he needs and understands him, better than he does himself. His displays of emotion are more physical than verbal, and he is quickly led by DuPont to agree to having words put in his mouth or to break away from his brother and the outside world. Mark wants to win, he wants to be great and patriotic, someone people can look up to, but he is not completely able to motivate himself at all times. David is the warmest of the three, and though he is devoted to his brother, and knows when to push him and when to nurture him, he is determined to give his wife and children a better and more stable life than he and Mark ever had. He knows who he is, and Mark listens to him.
The film feels measured and slow, catching people in their thoughts, drawing all this to the fore. The underlying creepiness of Du Pont is revealed slowly this way, and we see how Mark is drawn in, not objecting to any one thing but sort of swept up in it all until his brother is drawn in to intervene between him and his mentor when he comes to train the team at Foxcatcher. The whole time you know that something is off, but it’s not something huge. It’s not enough of a warning that something very bad could happen. But you sense it. There are images of weapons seen as toys, we know that Du Pont is a kid who can’t make friends, that Mark is a man with out a father figure looking for someone to look up to, that the characters are like dolls in Du Ponts toy training centre… but even though you know something bad is coming, you also don’t really expect it.
It’s a wonderfully subtle film, and says so much about the characters involved, how they feel, how they have adjusted to life, without words. And the sense of measured time, of slowness, of the small characters in the landscape, of the gap between them all, gives you the sense of growing alarm. It’s one of the years best films, and I highly recommend it. Not least because of the three brilliant core performances, though there is more to this film that makes it truly great.