Release date: 9 January 2015
Running time: 129 min
Director: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Bennett Miller is fast becoming the master of the stern, Oscar-baiting biopic. Having landed Academy recognition with examinations of Billy Beane and Truman Capote, his latest film Foxcatcher is an intense look at the relationship between amateur wrestling champion Mark Schultz and eccentric millionaire John du Pont, and looks destined to build on his successes. There are the lavish locations, powerhouse performances and facial prosthetics which will tick the boxes for the voters, but these are all elements that often act as window dressing. Thankfully Foxcatcher has avoided the trappings of such fodder, as there is much of interest beneath the pomp and circumstance.
To get the obvious out of the way; Steve Carrell delivers a superb impression of du Pont, nailing his Mr Burns style hunch and stop-start delivery. He is matched by Channing Tatum, who lumbers around like a wounded bear. It is a reminder that when Channing is not blowing stuff up in action films or cracking wise with Jonah Hill, he is perfectly capable of doing some honest-to-goodness, serious acting. Together they create a dynamic between wrestler and benefactor that is creepy and volatile, with only a smidgen of misplaced affection. Mark Ruffalo rounds out the trio nicely as Mark’s older brother David; the target of a lot of bitter resentment from the pair, despite seemingly being the only sane person on du Pont’s Foxcatcher estate.
There is always a risk in these award friendly films for the larger than life performances to overshadow the rest of the film (see Philip Seymour Hoffman’s display in Miller’s Capote). Not the case here however, as Bennett’s examination of the two characters is as provoking as the performances from the men bringing them to life. While du Pont and Mark are happy to prattle on about their shared philosophy on the purity of wrestling and their desire to make America great again, the slightest crack in their seemingly perfect partnership reveals the insecurities and jealousies that really drive them.
This is when Foxcatcher really comes to life. Just when it seems to be venturing down the well trodden path of a promising career ruined by drugs, it takes a surprising detour by examining of the consequences of living in another’s shadow. John du Pont looks to gain the respect of his champion horse breeder mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave in particularly icy form), by training his own stallions in the gym. For Mark, it is a quest to prove he can achieve greatness without his big brother in his corner. So much denial and repression is on display from both men that breakdowns are inevitable. They happen in very different ways, but are equally powerful. The labyrinth of neuroses on display makes Foxcatcher a step above your traditional Oscar candidate. Nice to see Bennett manage to wrestle free of the lazy tropes of award season films to produce a layered and interesting piece.