I was advised that the less you know about the true story of Foxcatcher when you walk into the cinema, the better. A shocking and morbid tale about the manipulation and self-loathing that can infect a world-class athlete, Foxcatcher is a little too focused on its performances and constant sense of dread to fully deliver or captivate. We first meet Mark Schultz as he gives an ineffective and uninspiring speech to high school children about the sport of wrestling and its importance to the United States. Schultz’s life seem joyless – he is a man of few words who wanders from scene to scene with an exhausting intensity and constant concern. We soon discover that he is a former Olympic gold-medallist. He is now stuck back in his mundane day-to-day life, with the film-makers presenting him to us in the same light as the under-appreciated Vietnam veterans. I admit he has the fury of John Rambo and the underlying mood of Travis Bickle but the difference is this is about sport. Still, Mark is consumed by wrestling – he’s in his element when he trains and a caged animal the rest of the time. When Mark exits the ring he enters the metaphorical taxi of Bickle. When a wealthy wrestling coach comes to Mark with a proposition he offers him more than just an attractive training contract. He offers him emotional support and admiration – a combination more dangerous than we initially anticipate. Foxcatcher follows Mark through his training, his competing and his turbulent relationship with the man who is both his mentor and captive. The constant sense of foreboding found in Foxcatcher is only increased by the performances given by Channing Tatum and Steve Carell. Two men we associate with comedy, drop the act to create something filled with dread and fear. Both men are monsters in their own way. Through their monstrous ways they damage themselves, each other and several innocent bystanders.
In the middle of it all is Dave, Mark’s brother, played by the always under-rated Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo’s character brings a sense of calm amongst the other stormy personalities. He captivates as a loyal brother and a respected athlete. Like his brother, his heart is in wrestling but, luckily for Dave, he has a family to pull him out of it all. Mark has no such family. Brought up by his brother – Mark feels pushed out by Dave’s separate family unit. Mark isolates himself through wrestling. He makes his sport his everything – an unhealthy mind-set only encouraged by his wealthy admirer and financier. Channing Tatum limps in and out of scenes; maintaining a constant stiff jaw that physically captures all of Mark’s inner anger and control. Steve Carell is unrecognisable as John du Pont, a lonely and wealthy man as obsessive about wrestling as Mark but in a crucially different way. Both men spiral out of control as the pressure mounts; both feeling a pressure to prove themselves to different people. John du Pont’s desire to impress his mother fuels the same pressure he puts on Mark. Egos clash, pressure mounts and the atmosphere grows thicker with suspense and fear of what’s to come. We spend the whole of Foxcatcher waiting for one of them to break – they both do, at different times and with different consequences. The relentless suspense left a bad taste in my mouth. Although there are admirable elements here – Foxcatcher is ultimately confused and isolating. It’s certainly a powerful film. The best part is that all of the power comes, not from the dialogue, but from the silence and from the body language. There are moments of unsubtle premonition that reinforce the strength in what is never said.
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