Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave
Release date: November 14th, 2014
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Running time: 130 minutes
Best part: The impressive performances.
Worst part: The underutilised female characters.
Every so often, Hollywood creates an effort of unconscionable grace and virtue. These achievements, from well-orchestrated winners to surprise hits, are preserved for present and future generations to admire. More often than not, these admirable efforts are composed of memorable scenes, quotes, and performances. Many classics are defined by people you’d least suspect. Turns like Judi Dench in the Bond saga, Heath Ledger as the Joker, or even Chris Tucker in Silver Linings Playbook can elevate anything.
So, how does this apply to 2014 Oscar contender Foxcatcher? Surprisingly, stunt casting solidifies the movie’s flawless execution and award-worthy glow. Suffering from crippling production and distribution issues throughout the past decade, the movie was almost closed off from humanity. Discarded from the public’s view, the movie – despite the stellar cast and intriguing story – struggled to find some attention. However, this year’s film festival circuit delivered a well-deserved boost. It may not appeal to everyone, but this crime-drama is worth the admission cost. A talking point across the world, the story, set in the 1980s, chronicles one of the past century’s most shocking true stories. depicting philanthropist John Eleuthere du Pont’s brutal murder of Olympic wrestling champion David Schultz, the movie depicts the harsh roads taken toward said horrific events. Throughout this docudrama, we follow blue-collar wrestler and lost soul Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Stranded in affectionate older brother David(Mark Ruffalo)’s shadow, he is ignored by his family, the Olympic committee, and the public. One day, after a solid training session with his sibling, he receives a call du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate. The du Pont family, known for a long-standing empire and inherent waspishness, boost Mark’s life. John (Steve Carell) tasks him with forging a top-shelf wrestling program.
Throughout the 130-minute run-time, Foxcatcher sticks to true events and never shows mercy. In the opening credits sequence, Director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) crafts a microscope-level examination of the du Pont family. This sequence, depicting archival footage of the Foxcatcher farm in Pennsylvania, alludes to the dynasty’s desire for ‘Britishness’. Their colossal mansion becomes this drama-thriller’s pristine backdrop. Shown to train horses and raise hounds, this docudrama casts an eerie fog over events. Delivering another unforgettable cinematic thrill-ride, Miller’s style courses through frames like blood cells through Tatum’s muscles. Capote showcases an acclaimed writer’s analysis of a horrific crime, while Moneyball depicts America’s infatuation with one of its most popular sports. Foxcatcher is a visceral and haunting concoction of Miller’s previous features. Fusing said concepts succinctly, it depicts a balletic dance between patriotism, obsession, power, and betrayal. Relating his situation to Mark’s, John yearns for power, victory, and masculinity. Avoiding typical docudrama tropes, Miller establishes himself as a keen-eyed observer – setting up the camera and watching confounding events unfold. The first half, focusing entirely on Mark and John’s eyebrow-raising dynamic, carefully dissects their discomforting mentor/protege relationship. Showcasing wrestling’s role-models and cash-cows, its sport-as-religion agenda hits stupendously hard. Revelling in an unrefined pastime, its wrestling sequences elevate the tension. Throwing themselves – literally and figuratively – across the mat, this resonant sports-drama steadily transitions into a potent psychological-thriller.
“A coach is the father. A coach is a mentor. A coach has great power on athlete’s life.” (John du Pont (Steve Carell), Foxcatcher).
Evolving beyond the central plot-thread, Foxcatcher transitions into a thought-provoking cautionary tale. Shifting to David and John’s professional relationship, the narrative – similarly to Mark – transforms into a touchy and unpredictable beast. Building to a heartbreaking conclusion, this crime-drama thrusts each expression, outburst, and comedic interlude. Breaking into John’s disturbing worldview, Foxcatcher crafts a fascinating antagonist. In one scene, John, snorting cocaine on his way to a fundraising event, forces Mark to practice his speech. Introducing John to the guests, Mark practices his pronunciation of three valuable words: ornithologist, philatelist, and philanthropist. In these select moments, Miller presents the creepy sports enthusiast as a belligerent child wrapped in blinding arrogance. Alluding to John’s damaged childhood, the movie constructs a meticulous and terrifying puzzle worthy of consideration. Whilst acquainted himself with Mark, John asks him to stop calling him “sir” or “Mr. Du Pont” and instead call him “Eagle”, “Golden Eagle”, or simply “John”. Blinded by an absurd sense of entitlement, John’s grand vision of the future and gaping insecurities led to his immense downfall. Atop a pedestal, John’s jingoism and artificiality depict only small shreds of his psyche. However, the movie presents John’s mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), as the major obstacle John never shrugged off. Despite the invigorating narrative, the female characters obtain little screen-time – relegating David’s wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller), to the background.
More so than touching story-telling and subdued visuals, Miller’s determination enhances this gripping and intelligent docudrama. Like with Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote and Jonah Hill in Moneyball, Foxcatcher‘s peculiar casting choices succeed wholeheartedly. Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo – earning Oscar nominations in well-crafted roles – enhance their comedic chops and charismatic personas. Like our lead characters’ mentor/student conflicts, this experience wrestles with harsh truths and deep-seeded emotions.