Foxcatcher (2014) Directed by Bennett Miller. With Channing Tatum, Mark Rufallo, Steve Carell, Sienna Miller and Vanessa Redgrave.
Is there anything more peculiar and random than real life!? Not if Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is anything to go by. This is the true story of three men; the wrestling team duo of Mark and Dave Shultz (Tatum and Ruffalo), and, to say the least, an eccentric billionaire called John du Pont, as played by an unrecognisable Steve Carrell. We begin by becoming acquainted with Mark Shultz, a powerful, talented wrestler and recent winner of Olympic gold at the 1984 Los Angeles games. Tatum’s initial portrayal of Shultz indicates a lost, trapped, and directionless young man, who is at odds with himself and, perhaps, the wider world.
It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but Shultz’s Olympic triumph was met with a strong sense of general apathy by the public. Such are the levels of disinterest (we witness it as he addresses a hall of schoolchildren), his achievement is recognised with the same enthusiasm of a factory operative clocking off from a 12-hour shift. Indeed, with no friends, Mark’s isolation would be complete if it weren’t for his brother Dave, a kind of brother-father to Mark, who despite running a family of his own, is also part-time guardian to his younger brother.
It isn’t long before out of the blue, Mark gets a call from a man representing John du Pont, requesting a meeting – a meeting that begins the course of this fascinating, strained story of, essentially, two men trying to find meaning and purpose to a life that seems to have given them what most people would consider the answer. From du Pont’s perspective, the film seems to faintly suggest that his interest in wrestling is, in some part, an outlet for repressed homosexuality. It is indicated in one of many unusual moments, that Tatum’s Shultz is partly going along with this idea, though the real life Mark Shultz has voiced great fury on the matter, strongly opposing any suggestion of a sexual encounter.
Steve Carrell is magnificent as du Pont, not simply in his delivery, but also in terms of the physicality and body language of his performance. As the heir to a fortune, this is a man locked inside his own mind, lost in a vast forest of wealth and power that appears to have cemented his isolation from the real world. He has his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), but her disappointment in him only compounds his misery – she considers his passion of wrestling, addressing it as a “low sport”. Tatum and Ruffalo also excel, portraying passionate, hard-working men with an intense dedication to their sport, trying to make the most of the opportunities afforded them, while side-stepping du Pont’s emotional landmines at nearly every turn.
Boasting beautiful shot compositions by cinematographer Greig Fraser, there’s a thick layer of sadness and foreboding to Foxcatcher, that, through use of music and a colour drained aesthetic, pervades throughout the entire piece. This is, unusually, a sad tale told amid a time of triumph and great success. 4/5