Directed By: Bennett Miller
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo
Wrestling. To the uninitiated, the mass perception is one of a glorified and scripted soap opera now downscaling its extremist tendencies to broaden its appeal. Think WWE and TNA. Or in the words of Vanessa Redgrave’s steely, disapproving maternal figure here, a ‘low’ form of sport. Yet it remains an American institution, from the high school grassroots to the great strides towards Olympic standard.
A ferocious focus on statistics and financial constraints that just so happened to centre around baseball with ‘Moneyball’, director Bennett Miller sees ‘Foxcatcher’ as another attempt to strip away the mainstream, crowd-pleasing entertainment value, pinning down his rigid narrative structure with purist intent. The delusions of grandeur and the tainted jealousy of such glory, manifesting into what is a compelling true-story triple-threat.
‘Do you know what this is?’. Channing Tatum’s Mark parading his Olympic gold medal to an oblivious next generation. He the motivational speaker, but his ‘substitute’ booking accentuating to the audience his tortured psyche and bruised ego is what’s needing the spur of confidence. One half of the successful Schultz duo, Mark feels belittled, almost in the shadows as his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) basks in the security of family and his greater public persona.
Complete with prosthetic nose, enter Steve Carell’s eccentric ornithologist/philatelist/philanthropist John Du Pont, who lives by the mantra ‘Coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on an athlete’s life.’ The grand hallowed grounds of his estate boasting an impressive training facility, Du Pont sees Mark Schultz as the spearhead to take his privatised wrestling team Foxcatcher all the way to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. For such aspiring success, John’s intentions go beyond the hunger of winning. He’s a man desperately seeking approval for his chosen passion, which only feeds into a both fascinating and unsettling relationship with his ‘chosen one’.
The almost muted, chilling aesthetic enhanced by the cold and clinical tightly-framed approach of its director, ‘Foxcatcher’ at first glance is an uncompromising insight into the fragility of one’s masculinity. The materialistic quality of money buying Du Pont’s intimidating status, yet away from such sporting activity, emotionally bankrupt. The physical prowess of Mark Schultz slyly mimicking the ‘ungrateful ape’ stance referred to by his morally corrupt coach, literally beating himself up as he’s cradled in unorthodox fashion by his concerned brother Dave.
Befitting of its wealthy benefactor, the film is stacked with greater ambitions. The wintry haze of its patriotism as we see Du Pont almost in mourning for the greater America, questioning the commitment of his country’s so-called role models. The gradual consumption of guilt and jealousy on both sides of its once healthy sibling rivalry. What were these fractured figures willing to sacrifice to claim such commendable status, with Miller examining the psychology of their mind-sets with painstaking precision.
The meticulous restraint and figure movements of Mark Ruffalo’s Dave Schultz is the ideal foil for his more troubled ‘team members’, dually taking on the unlikely roles of ‘father figure’ to Mark and ‘peacekeeper’ when facing off with John. Merely teasing such deliciously dark territory with feel-good indie ‘The Way Way Back’, Steve Carell’s John Du Pont is an on-screen monster blessed with surprising subtlety, tragically visualised as an aspiring ‘dark horse’, desperate to overcome the great odds stacked against him by his mother Jean (Redgrave). The revelation is Tatum, his outstanding portrayal of Mark Schultz deftly leaping from animalistic enthusiasm to unnerving self-punishment, as he craves genuine validation for such commitment to the cause.