“This is an Olympic gold medal. I won this three years ago at the 23rd Olympic games in Los Angeles, California. This is more than just some piece of metal. Its about what the metal represents. The virtues it requires to attain it.” Mark Schultz addressing a half full hall of school kids, they don’t care what he has to say, not many people do.
Mark Schultz (played here by Chaning Tatum on incredible form) is an Olympian, he lives in the shadow of his brother Dave (played by Mark Ruffalo, giving a very nuanced performance). Mark has a sheltered life, he lives in a rough apartment and eats terrible foods, whilst training with his brother to go to the next Olympics, on top of that someone keeps calling him and then hanging up, bummer. Mark is desperate to escape this life and become his own man rather than being known as “Dave’s brother”, so when he gets a call out of nowhere from a wealthy stranger offering him this, he jumps at the opportunity.
Foxcatcher really is a film about men, its about relationships between men and their control over one another when they posses power. When I first saw this film I was blown away by the subtlety of it, Bennett Miller has crafted a tremendous piece of work here.
Bennett Miller is not a particularly prolific director, at fifty, he has only directed four films, this film stands as his masterpiece. As I mentioned before one of the films standout areas is its subtle direction, this film would still be great without it, but Miller promotes this film into something else entirely. Many sports films focus on the sport and achievement of how a star can rise (like that rubbish Ronaldo film) and celebrate it along with glamorizing it. This is usually really boring and generally appeals to a mainstream audience so they can gaze in wonder at how much money a sportsman has made or many goals they have scored. Miller understands that this is a film with sport in it, not a film about sport.
The strong direction can tell an entire story with a simple hand touch here, shoulder grab there, eye contact that is sustained or unsustained. It helps communicate relationships with each character without the aid of dialogue, especially Mark Schultz, whom it is fair to say is a man of few words. For example in one of the films earliest scenes Mark spars with his brother, but in every attempt cannot beat him, he becomes frustrated easily and resorts to using a cheap shot to beat his brother. Dave walks it off, understanding his brothers anger and respects it, so much is established about their relationship in just one scene.
Millers physical direction between the actors is great, so its a good job the emotional and general performances he gets from his actors is also exceptional. After Capote and Moneyball, Millers ability to draw out standout performances from his actors is obvious and here is no different, all of the performances in this film are stratospheric, not a single actor slacks in any scene and Millers precision is felt throughout.
Greig Fraser is on cinematography duties and he is perfect for this film. Fraser captures the autumnal and emotionally cold atmosphere brilliantly and knows to shoot scenes focusing entirely on the actors performances, aswell as capturing some beautiful landscape shots of Foxcather farm that look like classical country paintings.
When I first went to see this film I was hesitant about Tatum, I liked him in Magic Mike but in anything else I had seen him in I wasn’t really impressed. He destroyed these expectations within the first few scenes of the film. To start with Tatum has clearly gone to great lengths to get the look of a professional wrestler, his physicality really aids this role and he employs a hulking walk that makes Mark look like a lumbering oaf. He has had some minor make up applied to him such as a jutting jawline, but its not a “wiggy” performance, it is very subtle and Tatum gets into the skin of the character. His understatement and broiling anger that the character attempts to hold back is felt and his sometimes childlike portrayal of Mark sets him up as an easily manipulated brute.
Mark Ruffalo plays David Schultz and is a really great character, Dave is a family man who loves his wife and children. Dave has absolutely no ego when it comes to his recognition as a wrestler and has no monetary aspirations, as his brother clearly points out “You cant buy Dave”. He wants to protect his brother but also wishes him success, he is very wary of Marks new friend and cautions him, trying to understand the situation. When the more dramatic scenes take place between the two brothers you really believe it and Ruffalo has a standout scene in the film involving an interview which is worth the price of admission alone. The subtle nuances (such as the beard picking and ape like walk) and good nature of the man really make the character believable. Ruffalo was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role at the academy awards and unbelievably did not win.
Our final lead male performance is rounded out by Steve Carell, this is the actor who shattered his image of “mostly comedic” roles to reinventing it as “Okay, give this guy more serious roles”. Carell portrays John du Pont, he is a very wealthy man whose family has spanned generations and he is an extremely proud American “I’m an ornithologist, more importantly, I am a patriot”. Critics often say that comedic actors can also give the creepiest portrayals, believing that Horror and comedy are more closely linked than people believe such as Robin Williams in One Hour Photo. Here that testament stands true. Carells performance is seething, his character is creepy, manipulative and desperate, he creates a master and servant relationship with Mark. The pairs relationship borders on homosexuality, in a training scene it is strongly visualized that John effectively rapes Mark. John du Pont is also a loner and at one point recites that he only had one friend growing up, who he later found out was being paid by his mother. Mark and John can unusually relate to one another and Mark quickly replaces Dave as his father figure with John. Carells physical performance could have easily bordered on a caricature, instead he inhabits the role, changing his breathing style and posture, there is one shot in particular when he smiles after a medal victory at his home and he looks like an unworldly creature.
Vanessa Redgrave appears as Jean du Pont, Johns mother in effectively one scene, her cold presence and elitist attitude (calling wrestling a “low” sport) are intimidating and I love how she is a constant presence in Johns life, as he seeks to prove himself to her but equally wants to be rid of her.
Sienna Miller is also in the film for an extremely limited time, Miller is an actress who I always find unrecognisable, she looks different in every film I see her in and she seems to always be in supporting roles, she is fine here and plays Dave’s wife Nancy.
The film is written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, the two do a great job of communicating the cold nature of the film and give Carell some really creepy dialogue to work with “Most of my friends call me eagle or golden eagle” it sends a shiver down your spine whenever you hear it. It is also limited and straight to the point, similar to the physicality of the performers the dialogue builds on it “No Mark, Stay” reinforces Marks puppy dog relationship with Du Pont.
The soundtrack for the film by Rob Simonsen is also divine, it incorporates a great use of different instruments (see track “Olympic Losses” as the best example of this), its really understated but is used in all the right places. Just elevating the film in all the necessary scenes, its tragically beautiful and emphasises the patriotic thread throughout the film.
Foxcatcher is based on a true story and the film does have an unfortunate, heartbreaking and devastating climax, I love this film and it is one of my all time favorites. no matter how man times I watch it, I cannot take my eyes off the screen, the film has an eery and haunted quality to it and manages to completely reinvent a sports film. I have never liked sport and have no interest in professional wrestling, so do not seek the film out if you like those things. However if you want to be challenged and find themes you can relate to such as, relationships with brothers, fathers and mothers, watch this film.
I hate how this film was overlooked come award season and films like Birdman were far more recognised. I do think that this is a gem that needs to be discovered by more people, its the one critics will look back on far more fondly and blows its competition of the year like The Theory of Everything out of the water.
The film is only available in a standard Blu-ray and can be purchased from amazon for a cheap price, the special features are very limited on it but the price is worth for the film alone, pick it up here: