Foxcatcher – Movie Review by Francis Winston
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall
In cinemas January 9th
Three of Hollywood’s leading men underwent dramatic transformations for this film based on the true story of the murder of Olympic gold medal winning wrestler Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) at the hands of millionaire philanthropist John Du Pont (Carrell) in 1996. The pair originally met thanks to Dave’s younger brother Mark (Tatum) who had been persuaded to join Du Pont’s private wrestling team Foxcatcher.
Although an Olympic champion himself Mark lives in his more skilled older brother’s shadow so when Du Pont approaches him he is thrilled to be recognised on his own merits. Hypnotised by Du Pont’s lavish lifestyle and fabulous training facilities he agrees to join the team. Living in a guest house and with top notch facilities at his disposal Mark thrives and wins gold at the 1987 World Wrestling Championships and Du Pont and he become close friends. However, Du Pont has been angling to get Dave to join the team from the start and after a falling out with Mark he somehow persuades him to uproot his family and move to Foxcatcher. With the team preparing for the 1988 Olympic preliminaries there is tension in the ranks as a jealous Mark refuses to train with Dave. Meanwhile Dave is struggling with the fact that Du Pont sees himself as some sort of mentor to him. Despite the turmoil and after a difficult qualifying round Mark manages to make the cut for the competition, although he doesn’t repeat his previous success and arrives home empty handed. Deflated he leaves Foxcatcher but Dave manages to persuade Du Pont to continue supporting him.
Dave continues to live there and train with the team but Du Pont is slowly becoming more and more unstable and is unhappy about the time he spends with his family. One day after watching a documentary he commissioned about the teams bid for Olympic glory he snaps. Driving to Dave’s house he shoots him point blank as he fixes his car before hiding away until the police find him and arrest him.
This is pretty much a three hander between Tatum, Ruffalo and Carrell. The three men are rarely off screen and the whole movie rests on their performances which thankfully are excellent. Even the usually wooden Tatum acquits himself here although his character isn’t the most animated of people so he didn’t really have to stretch himself. Their physical transformations are also impressive. The usually cleancut Carrell is withered and sleazy and his trademark broad grin is replaced by tiny yellowing teeth. Ruffalo trades his crumpled handsomeness for a far stockier, hairier look than we are used to seeing on him and even heart-throb Tatum gets in on the act sporting cauliflower ears alongside other more subtle facial prosthetics throughout.
If you’re not a fan of wrestling you will probably find the training and fight scenes somewhat tedious but the one on one scenes between the leads are gripping and intriguing. Some of the best scenes occur as Mark falls deeper under du Ponts influence and starts indulging in cocaine and living a party boy lifestyle.
Unfortunately, we never really get a sense of what it was that tipped Du Pont over the edge and having spent nearly two hours building up to the murder you still don’treally understand what triggered it and the ending feels somewhat rushed. This aside this is an intriguing watch that doesn’t rely on special effects and bells and whistles to sell itself but rather trusts in the narrative. Extremely dark there is a pervading sense of inevitability hanging over it. Far more enjoyable than the premise belies it is the kind of fact based drama that makes you immediately want to Google more information on the events afterwards which is probably the best compliment you can pay a film like this.