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USA 2014
Directed by
Bennett Miller
137 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4.5 stars


Synopsis: The real life story of how 1984 Gold Medal winning Olympic wrestlers, brothers Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum) Schultz joined Team Foxcatcher, the brainchild of billionaire sponsor and wrestling buff John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) in preparation for a swing at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. What seemed like a good idea at the time doesn’t pan out that way.

I can’t say I’ve ever understood the appeal of Steve Carell.  His Teflon blandness repeated in movie after movie seems defined more by what he is not than by any positive characteristics. So I was interested by his heavily prothesised tilt at dramaturgic credibility in this film. I’m glad to say that although his make-up at times takes on a near-fetishised quality with his formidable proboscis virtually assuming a life of its own, his performance is disturbingly effective, even if once again, negativity seems to be at its heart.  However true to the real life du Pont or otherwise, Carell’s screen character is a profoundly repressed individual,  dominated by his mother (a brief but precise appearance by Vanessa Redgrave) and riven by an undeclared homosexuality (in the development of the relationship between Mark and du Pont one at times recalls Soderburgh's Behind The Candlebra of the previous year), who masks his sense of inadequacy with fantasies of entrepreneurial and patriotic achievement (appropriately, the du Pont fortune is based on munitions), near psychotic delusions which he is rich enough to make real. Or almost.

Foxcatcher tells a remarkable story, one that unlike the recent spate of flag-waving heroics in American Sniper and Unbroken looks at the corrupted underbelly of the American Dream. Director Bennett Miller who helmed the unusually skeptical 2011 sports movie Moneyball ups the ante here, inverting the usual triumphalist template that characterises the genre with a story of brotherly love destroyed by old money and class privilege.  Refreshing as this perspective is in itself what make the film work are the fine performances and the insightful script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.

If Carell brings home du Pont’s profoundly disturbed personality which over the course of the film, in a series of uncomfortable but telling episodes, emerges from beneath his creepily solicitous veneer into something truly grotesque, Ruffalo and Tatum also deliver first class performances.  Ruffalo, not an actor one associates with physical roles, undergoes a quite remarkable transformation himself (although he prothesized dome rivals Carell's nose for it ability to distract).  He captures an earthy, working class persona, devoted to his taciturn brother and the very antithesis to du Pont.  Tatum who, on the other hand, is well known for his beefed-up physique, plays Mark as a bit of a Neanderthal but for all that a sensitive one. The relationship between the two brothers is well captured in a remarkable early scene in which they spar like a couple of primates acting out some time-honoured ritual of dominance and sub-dominance.  The way in which du Pont insinuates himself into and sours this relationship to satisfy his own agenda is methodically realized by Miller who keeps a sombre tone throughout.

Foxcatcher is a slow-moving and quite long film and is probably best avoided if you are feeling frisky. But if you’re tired of big budget Hollywood crusading it should make a very satisfying, if very sad, antidote.  




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