FoxcatcherReviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 12/02/14 13:47:59
A quick bit of research suggests that "Foxcatcher", aside from seeming to compact its events into a shorter period of time, only hints at some of the more obviously bizarre parts of the story. In doing so, one might argue, the filmmakers get at a darker and more general set of truths. It almost doesn't need the punctuation at the end of its sentence.It starts with Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an athlete who won a gold medal for wrestling in the 1984 Olympics, barely scraping by three years later. He trains with his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) - also a champion and a highly respected coach - when he can, but the intensity of the training necessary is very difficult without other means of financial support. Enter John du Pont (Steve Carell), as in the chemical company, eager to support USA Wrestling and even willing to put Mark and some of the other members of the team up at his family's Foxcatcher Farm, where he's built a training facility. The thing is, eccentric rich guys often march to the beat of extremely different drummers.
Actually, it doesn't quite start with Mark; the film opens with imagery of how the du Ponts used the property before John converted it into an athletic center - breeding and training dogs and horses and using them to hunt foxes. It's no great leap to see John continuing that, in a fashion, only now the animals are men. There's something about the sport that suggests the animalistic, and director Bennett Miller plays into it, never humanizing the sport by explaining the rules, instead initially focusing on Mark and his opponents bent over, circling each other, grunting and swiping at each other like wolves or bears. It's easy to see a man born to great wealth asserting dominion over those he sees as lesser beasts, even if he does feel fondness and admiration for them, the same way his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) does for her horses.
Bundle that up with a need to assert masculinity - I'm guessing most ornithologists aren't buying the kinds of weapons John goes for - and you've got the formula for a real mess. Kudos to Steve Carell for not playing it as a sloppy one; instead, he gives the impression that du Pont is feeling his way through everything with a great deal of confusion - he's not used to dealing with people like the Schultzes directly and has an idealized image of what a member of a dynasty should be, even though he has done little to earn positions like "coach" other than be born with money. Carell makes the man a void that will just fill with desire, resentment, and delusion, nothing like his usual screen persona at all.
Of course, looking at it only from du Pont's perspective does the movie a disservice. As much as Carell disappears inside du Pont, Mark Ruffalo is arguably even more of a chameleon as David. The character is a sort of perfect image of working class brilliance, the guy who can with a few words and bits of expertise make the wrestlers seem like men rather than the beasts they are through du Pont's prism, so easily likable that the dashes of selfishness and ego are almost completely submerged. He also sells David's tremendous skill as a wrestler so well that it's quite believable that he can hold his own with Channing Tatum's more obviously impressive physical specimen.
And Tatum? Just another in a string of impressive performances he's given over the last couple of years, this time playing Mark as a guy who starts out with dedication but maybe not a whole lot else up top, except maybe vague enough ideas about America and family that make it easy for him to come under du Pont's sway. In some ways, Mark is too simple to obviously crack under abuse or really express resentment of how David overshadows him, and Tatum does well in showing those sides of the character as the film gives him a chance.
Focusing on Mark and John for much of the movie (and maybe underusing Sienna Miller as David's wife) means that where it ultimately winds up is not necessarily aong the path it was following, but it's hard to blame when Miller and writers E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman are finding this almost limitless supply of men who need direction and ideas on how the poor almost volunteer to be exploited by the rich at times. They present John and David exerting almost tidal influences on Mark until that thread resolves itself naturally, and manage a reasonably rare feet in building it that way: The film is full of scenes that seem inessential but are too good to lose, but never becomes overloaded with them. Some of them have only a tangential relationship to the main story but will likely stick with the audience (for instance, a "making weight" montage that is calm but also horrifying).It's a dark journey, and little is done to disguise that fact - indeed, the ugliness will likely be considered a selling point when pointing out just how full of quality acting it is. But despite occasionally looking like a protracted wandering through the muck to no clear end, it's sharp and fascinating while one views it and maybe even a little better on reflection.
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