Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is offered a way out of his sorrowful and shadowed $20 an appearance life by the eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). Wanting to escape the shadow of his more celebrated brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), Mark moves to the Foxcatcher estate to live and train in du Pont’s privately funded ‘Team Foxcatcher’ training facility for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Easily lured into the dangerous habits of du Pont, Mark is blinded and falls into a self-destructive spiral.
After a conversation with friends regarding the events of the Foxcatcher estate and a quick Google search of the Schultz brothers, I was quick to launch myself in front of screen to watch the painful descent to a tragic nemesis.
Greig Fraser’s numbing cinematography treats us to a freezing cinematic experience. From start to finish you feel nothing but a frost surrounding you. The brotherly love and commitment the two have for each other could not crack the ice that environs this intense narrative. Director Bennett Miller’s style is downbeat. Desaturated tones.
In an earlier scene in which Mark and his brother Dave wrestle together like two big bears, we sense the affection and commitment between them. As the brothers grasp tight to each other and practice their moves, we see a relationship of two completely different yet incredibly alike brothers who rely on each other undoubtedly. More so on Mark’s side, there is a craving for reassurance from Dave which leaks innocence from Mark. Dave wants to take care of his younger brother, something that continues throughout. There is a definite sense that Dave will come out on top, when we first enter the urban gymnasium we see Dave talking to a line of suited men, both he and Mark achieved a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and were both world champions however it is Dave they are interested in.
Dave is married to Nancy (Sienna Miller), he has children, Mark is on his own. He lives alone in a dark apartment, giving lectures to school children for $20 and walking as if the weight of the world rests on his masculine shoulders. It is no surprise Mark is so responsive when he receives the call from du Pont asking to go visit his Foxcatcher farm via private helicopter. Blinded by the wealth of du Pont and what he has to offer, Mark signs up.
When we meet du Pont, Miller does not give us the close up we expect to introduce us to the character and the actor who plays him. Du Pont is played by Steve Carell, although when his close-up finally comes, you wouldn’t guess it. There’s a haunting irony when witnessing a comedy actor playing such an eccentric tragic character, it makes the transformation more unbelievable and unbearable at times. The role goes completely against Carell’s type and the sound and visual impact of his role echoes after you for days. His words rattle unevenly out, as if his body battles a shivering frost within. The large beaky nose and rubbery, dappled skin are prosthetics, his head constantly tilted backwards with his large nose pointing northwards; his head never moves alone, his body stiffly turns.
There is a demand for more from both Mark and du Pont. Du Pont wants to be the best and he has the wealth and the ‘right’ people surrounding him to help him reach his destination (wait for the scene where he competes in a 50+ wrestling competition). Mark accepts du Pont’s offer straight away and desperately wants to escape the shadow of his brother he has been living in for so many years and here is where his vulnerability is exploited by du Pont. It is obvious that the two are seeking companionship from outside the family circle; du Pont voicing his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) once paid a boy to be his friend. With an introduction and offering of cocaine and intimate moments between the two it is no surprise there has been a considerable amount of questioning whether the relationship between du Pont and Mark was perhaps sexual. Something the real Mark Schultz furiously denies.
The conclusion is inevitable and although you feel suffocated by the grasps of du Pont your eyes are constantly gripped. Carell gives the performance of his career and Mark Ruffalo closely follows with a true performance. The two actors in particular have rightfully been nominated for an Academy Award for their roles. As a fan of Vanessa Redgrave (mostly her iconic voice) I was pleasantly surprised to see her appear as du Pont’s elderly intolerable matriarch mother. The relationship between the two is similar to that of Norman Bates and his mother. It is no surprise the dark insanity of du Pont results in a deadly conclusion. The intensity from start to finish is like no narrative I have seen before.
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller.
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: 9th January 2014