New York filmmaker Bennett Miller is a director who, in a minimal amount of output, has turned plenty of heads. With 2005’s Capote and 2011’s Moneyball, Miller showed himself as an accomplished voice in Hollywood, and now, with Foxcatcher, he returns to the world of sports, yet with a different tone altogether. Written by E. Max Frye (Palmetto) and Dan Futterman (Capote), this is a tale of brotherhood and darkness with a backdrop of competition. Unlike Moneyball, yet with many traits that have become familiarities with Miller’s work, it’s one of those unforgettable films, one that will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema or pushed “stop” on your remote control.
The story of Foxcatcher is based on a true account and follows three men. Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic Gold Medal winner in wrestling, who is invited by the heir to the du Pont fortune, the wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) to visit him. While there, du Pont asks Mark to move onto his estate and be part of a team that will train for the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. Agreeing, and moving onto the estate where everything is paid for, Mark attempts to step out of the shadow of his respected brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Dave initially refuses the invitation, from Mark, to move to the estate as part of the training team, not wanting to uplift his kids and his wife (Sienna Miller) on a whim. Mark, meanwhile, throws himself head-first into the new life he has been afforded. du Pont takes it upon himself to coach the wrestling team as an attempt to gain acceptance and respect from his peers and his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who appears not to value John’s accomplishments or interests. With strange and borderline anti-social behaviour, du Pont, for lack of a better word, seduced Mark with what he offers him, and Mark becomes more and more caught up, beginning to look to du Pont as a mentor and father-like figure to him. Things turn sour and get darker as the film continues, as du Pont’s interest turns to fully-fledged obsession.
Without spoiling things, I’ll leave it there. You may be aware already of what happens in the film, but for those who don’t, I’ll let it be a surprise. I was captivated by this movie, by the performances and by the writing. Steve Carell, an actor I have always loved and place highly, is mesmerizing as John du Pont. He brings a mysterious creepiness and an all-round uncomfortable nature to the character, and the transformation physically is also worth pointing out. He looks peculiar, rat-like and his glances and subtle responses to what is happening around him create a jumpy and tetchy character whom isn’t, shall we say, “all there”. Tatum, as Mark Schultz, delivers his best acting performance here, a quiet storm with obvious angst behind his eyes. He is a man who is unable to fully express himself, and falls into despair due to this nature. Ruffalo, as Dave Schultz, is the other side of the coin to Mark, in many ways, but while he also finds it hard to express feelings verbally, he shows a caring and paternal side to him in regard to Mark that creates a jagged edge between the two brothers and John du Pont as the story goes on. These three actors pulled something from their guts here, and gave three very, very good performances that are worthy of any award or nod. Carell blew me away, and he showed something that many people were perhaps unsure of, that he could act, seriously and deeply. Terrific.
Miller has hit three out of the park now, and I can’t recall many directors in recent memory who have had three films as different from one another as Capote, Moneyball and Foxcatcher are, yet still bring something truly special with each of them. It’s exciting to ponder what he might do next.
This is a very dark and gloomy movie. It looks grey, and feels grey. There are subtleties and nuances to be picked up on and nothing is really shouted out loudly and obviously. It’s a creeping feeling of tension and discomfort that crawls slowly up your back and into your guts as it’s playing out, and finds itself as a pitch black account of something peculiar and something terrible. Let’s just say… it isn’t the sort of film you want to sit down to “enjoy”. It isn’t the sort of film to cheer you up after a long day. It is, however, a film that will remain in your head and tap away at you. It’s memorable and brilliant in its sullen nature. It is a slow burner that is worth the wait. It’s one of those movies that you experience as it happens, allowing each performance to grip you. I felt that way, anyway. I was looking forward to this film back when I heard about it in 2013, and I wasn’t disappointed.