Written by: E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller
Delusions of grandeur permeate the minds of those who have never had to work in order to achieve any of their accomplishments. It allows a strange sense of self-importance to continually grow to the point where they believe they can have whatever they please simply because of the resources behind them. A concerning perspective but one we’ve seen many times and specifically outlined in Foxcatcher. A wholly uncomfortable viewing experience and rightfully so.
Seeking to make his way back to the Olympics in wrestling, Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) receives an invitation to be put up and trained with John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell), a millionaire from a legacy family and with enough money to give Shultz everything he needs. Their common goal lies in reaching the Olympics and bringing a gold medal back with them, which then faces complications when du Pont insists Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) gets involved with the outfit.
The trio of individuals and actors at the center of Foxcatcher drive the narrative in the inspirational and tragic routes leading all the way to the car crash in the end. A triangle of a relationship between these three men with various emotions fulfilling each side. It all sets out with Mark and Dave as brothers. The way they differ says plenty about the successes they have found following winning a gold medal just a few years prior. Mark’s situation shows the reality of some gold medal winners where they do not get the cover of the Wheaties box or other sponsorship deals. The adulation gets received while at the games and then life just moves on. While Dave has been able to leverage his success for opportunities in coaching, Mark lives in a small apartment getting paid to present unenthused speaking gigs at middle schools. Not exactly the shining beacon of what Olympic success promises. Despite the different ways they have found success a level of love always exists by Dave for his little brother. Nothing makes it more evident than their training sessions when Dave is warming up Mark with some sparring.
This particular sequence seeks to highlight the physicality of the sport of wrestling and how it comes with an affectionate underpinning between the two. In little outbursts or in subtle movements, it becomes apparent Mark wants to escape Dave’s shadow, which makes the call from du Pont all the more alluring. The pre-existent warmth existing between the two brothers immediately gets sanitized by the presence of du Pont, eerily portrayed by Steve Carrell. A constant feeling of unease sits right on the surface whenever he interacts with anyone because of his complete phoniness.
As a man given everything in life, he attempts to buy his way into seeking affection from others. This idea has been seen before simply because it exists with people so exuberantly wealthy where they cannot have normal relationships with others. Everything becomes transactional, which becomes evident when he eventually gets aggravated by Mark’s shortcomings. From throwing a tantrum when the tank he ordered does not arrive with an attached machine gun and when he does not receive the utmost respect from his wrestlers, du Pont’s insistence of importance becomes worrying and eventually leads to the impasse seen towards the end of the feature.
The dueling dynamic between these three men dominate this story and certainly gets aided by a trio of terrific performances. Entering this film with the least amount of acting clout between the three, Channing Tatum ultimately takes the spotlight and delivers career-best work as Mark. Without many words, he can express so much through his physicality with this character. Bulky in stature and emotionally blocked off, Tatum displays the trouble Mark has with expressing his feelings and manages to bottle it all up only to be released in a physically aggressive manner. It all comes down to reading his face and it conveys so much even with little context to back it up. Tatum absolutely stuns with this performance and it’s great to see he has a performance of this caliber in him.
Despite the ever-present tension of each interaction, a level of coldness and slow pacing make Foxcatcher a film I cannot love. It certainly contains an incredible amount of quality, hence my positive rating, but at times it feels far too detached for its own good. The coldness on display feels similar to another of Bennet Miller’s directorial feats in Capote, but with that film’s titular character, there remains a level of warmth and vulnerability. So much of the emotional work being done here simply stays on the surface and does not go anywhere at times, which only gets more frustrating when it reaches the climax of the narrative. By ultimately feeling underwhelming at the end, it makes me ponder the whole point of this exercise, which never fares well for a feature.
Undeniably remarkable in most aspects but not on an emotional level, Foxcatcher has all of the attributes of a great film but never quite reaches it. Elements of the feature truly highlight the overall mood of the piece, including the production design with everything culminating in the three lead performances and the way their relationships intermingle into a knot on the verge of snapping. While the ultimate conclusion does not come together as well as I would have hoped, the ride to it certainly created enough intrigue to keep up the engagement.