Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Plot: Wrestler, Mike Schultz (Tatum) lives in the shadow of his brother (Ruffalo), until an oppurtunity to train with the rich yet eccentric philantrophist, John Du Pont (Carrell), crops up.
There is something quietly powerful about Foxcatcher. As a matter of fact, there is something quiet in general about Foxcatcher. Maybe it is to do with the building up of this movie. Foxcatcher is based on a true story about a strange rich philanthropist, John Du Pont, who one day, decides to invest into the world of professional wrestling. By the time, you have seen the movie through to its shocking end, you will question why you have never heard of this story before. On top of the actual source of the biopic, there is the hype surrounding it. Mainly this is down to Steve Carrell in a career-changing turn as the man himself, Du Pont. Carrell doesn’t do roles like this, not one ounce of comedy (although you can see the potential for a laugh-out-loud depiction of this strange character through the misery of the direction), breaking through his subdued, impressive performance. Pitch perfect prosthetics, a finely tuned Philadelphian accent – this is Steve Carrell as you have never seen him before and hopefully will be seeing again in the near future. But when we get to the actual movie, it never relies on the spectacle of its advertising. It simply tells the story it wants to tell, refusing to embrace the norms of biopic cinema in the way we want it to. It makes for an odd watch, although one that is somehow even more recommendable.
It is almost as though Miller is more concerned about showing off the space in between the dialogue, rather than the actual dialogue. Take the first introduction to Channing Tatum’s Mike Schultz, a character just as outside Tatum’s comfort zone as Du Pont is for Carrell. Tatum trains, goes home, eats, works… he emotes little through this, even when he is seen with his brother for the first time. Bennett Miller just asks Tatum to clamp down on any form of acting and simply fill the space. And somehow the silence around the performance feels so much more intense. The emptiness to the character screams at you, far louder than any emotional monologue ever could. The only time Mike Schultz ever expresses his true emotions (that isn’t that scowl biting down on his bitterness), is when he is alone in his bedroom, self-harming by smashing his own head through a mirror. Mike would be asked a question and the editing would cut away before the character could answer, keeping his voice very silenced, as though every angle of this movie is repressing him. Even when the movie rocks to a conclusion, we have no idea what is going through the character’s head. Sure, perhaps there is a side of us deep down that will never quite jump on the Foxcatcher bandwagon, because we want to see Channing Tatum do something more conventional, like confront his emotions or Du Pont, but it must be said that, even if there is something slightly unsatisfactory about this movie, it leaves its carefully constructed depressing tone circling around your mind for quite some time after the end credits.
What it does give us is a very interesting portrayal of the mysterious man behind the entire story: John Du Pont. Like Schultz, there is a sense that we never get to know him, yet while it is clear that Mike has a bubbling thought process being denied to us from the off, we could argue that there is a sense that Du Pont doesn’t really have anything other than that eerie presence. For the first half of the movie, and perhaps the second half as well, we are unable to escape the impression that Du Pont hasn’t really got any motives. His venture into the world of wrestling is clearly done on a whim, like a child suddenly curious about a new range of toys in a cereal box he has never tried before. Certain massive development points for Mike seem to mean very little for Du Pont. One scene sees Du Pont try to steer Mike away from his brother, cutting off all attachment. This is a massive part of the story for Mike, but it is difficult to shake the idea that Du Pont is just reeling off some stray piece of motivational lingo he overheard on TV that morning and decided to mimic to further his fantasy of being a wrestling coach. Later on in the film, it becomes clear that Du Pont ends up connecting with the sport, but he isn’t quite sure how to develop that connection. He probably does genuinely feel some sort of friendship or affection for the Schultz brothers, but seeing as this could be the first time he actually has cared for anyone not his mother before, he isn’t sure how to respond. He moulds the characters around them into the people he wants them to be, and when they refuse to totally bend to his will, he is left out in the cold. There is something tragic about him deciding to visit Mike’s brother, Dave, in the spur of the moment, only to be politely told that Dave was planning on spending Sunday with his wife and children. He is the outsider and as much as he dresses up his loneliness with this illusion of being a wrestling coach, when it is stripped away in those brief moments, Du Pont cuts a very pathetic figure.
And again, the performances only really portray half of this. Somehow all of these plot points are conveyed through that emptiness and silence around the actors, as they stand there, quietly repressing the emotions you can imagine that secretly want to erupt with. If I am making the actors out to be irrelevant, I really don’t mean to, because everyone here is on fine form. Tatum embraces drama in a way he hasn’t before, Ruffalo is as impressive as ever, Carrell is truly outstanding. It is simply the directional style around them is so in tune with the acting, that it carries the film, becoming that factor that dazzles you more than any other. It does mean that the supporting cast feel a little under-used. There is a sense that Miller doesn’t really need fantastic actresses like Sienna Miller or Vanessa Redgrave here, giving that slightly flat feeling that they are background dressing rather than important plot points. Yet the way to treat Foxcatcher is a well oiled machine with everyone doing their jobs. The movie would fall apart if Channing Tatum decide to play it safe and use his natural charm. In trusting Bennett Miller’s keen direction, they have gone against their gut and bonded together to make a biopic unlike any other. Yes, it is uncomfortable, yes, it is strange… and perhaps, sadly, a little unsatisfying… but it is a piece of cinema that you cannot help but admire.
Final Verdict: Foxcatcher is both what you expect it to be, yet totally different. A strange work of art, yet somehow endlessly captivating.