The 400-Word Review: Foxcatcher
By Sean Collier
December 23, 2014
Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher illustrates the inherent energy of a wrestling match: there is the delicately controlled potential for violence, and then there is a sudden burst of fury. That also describes the film; for two hours, eccentric heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) positions himself intimately close to Olympic champions Mark (Channing Tatum) and David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Then this true story concludes with an unfathomable act of malice.
While some of the biographical details are rearranged, Foxcatcher slowly paints a seemingly accurate picture of du Pont. The bizarre millionaire recruited wrestlers, including the Schultz brothers, to train and compete under his patronage beginning in the mid-1980s. A failed sportsman himself, du Pont became increasingly focused on his crew (dubbed “Team Foxcatcher”) into the 1990s, despite myriad other ventures which were more successful. As his stable was growing, however, the mental illness that would be the centerpiece of du Pont’s trial grew as well.
While the film’s terrible conclusion brings David Schultz to the center of the narrative, much of the feature is focused on du Pont’s bizarre relationship with Mark. The self-styled coach bewilderingly manipulates the young wrestler, offering expressions of pride and disgusted glares in equal measure; in one scene, du Pont commends Mark for resisting alcohol while in training, and in another, bullies him into snorting cocaine.
The performances by Tatum and Carell — in both cases, the best of already-impressive careers — are perfectly in tune with the confusion and suspicion that lurk beyond the edges of the frame. Tatum carefully keeps a degree of distrust in Mark’s eyes, even as he is compelled closer to du Pont. Carell, finally given a large platform to display his talents outside of comedy, has created a haunting version of du Pont that answers few questions yet utterly grounds actions which may have had no motive at all.
Miller works perfectly in tandem with co-writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman. Through a restrained script and a cautious camera, they create a film that maintains an air of mystery and building tension throughout its lengthy runtime — all the more impressive when one considers that this is not a story that offers a logical progression. To take a tale such as this and weave it into a poetic and heartbreaking feature would’ve vexed ordinary filmmakers. As we’ve seen in his two previous features, however, Miller is no ordinary filmmaker.
My Rating: 10/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark