(2014 - Director: Bennett Miller Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo)
When you step into the world of Foxcatcher, you step out of time. The film is bookended by a delusional state of patriotism and legacy. We start out with Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) cashing $20 checks for speaking engagements at school assemblies where he holds up his Olympic gold medal for wrestling and tells uninterested kids what it means to win for America. We end on him getting into a brutal MMA ring (moments after a previous fighter was carted off unconscious) all while chants of “U-S-A” echo in his ears along with the announcer rattling off all his past wrestling accomplishments. What’s in between these two scenes is faded, methodical, and eerie. Timeless, if you will. Mark gets sucked into millionaire John du Pont’s philosophy and vision for America – at least, that’s what’s on the surface.
This film is about survival as much as anything else. Mark takes du Pont’s offer of money, training, and living on his estate as a way of earning that "big break" and getting the training he needs to win again. John repeatedly tells Mark that his country owes him all of this. More and more, it becomes about Mark’s need for a father figure, and his desire to win without the help of his brother; also Olympic gold-medalist, Dave Shultz. For John (Steve Carell), it’s about having a purpose and having people need him and look up to him. It’s about his mother’s approval. It’s about having a legacy worthy of the Foxcatcher name.
These two psychologically broken men long for a family of any kind. du Pont confusingly claims to be like a brother and father to Team Foxcatcher. Stuck in the middle is Dave (played by the always great Mark Ruffalo), who happens to be the man whose family is his number one priority, thus, becoming the only identifiable character in the entire film. Dave is always trying to get into the head of either Mark or John, or mediate between the two. No scene shows this better than the very beginning when the brothers are training. We watch their bodies move in sync, in complete silence, and begin to understand the balance these brothers have. Their wrestling style is symbolic of who they are.
Foxcatcher is not your conventional narrative film. The plot is thin. The action is sparse. But the character subtext is off the charts. Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo all give the performances of their careers. I’ve never seen them better. The dedication and physical technique that Tatum and Ruffalo pull off portraying world-class wrestlers is unquestionable. Even the real Mark Schultz gave praise for the quality of wrestling.
Carell takes a while to convince me he won’t, at any moment, rip off his prosthetic nose and make me laugh. But there’s no denying Carell’s dedication to this role. He is utterly demented, scary, and uncomfortable to watch. There is looming dread all around him. I would have loved to have gotten a bit more into the psychology of du Pont or learn more about his history. Instead, he’s an enigma – a man we can never truly understand. And maybe that’s the point.
Bennett Miller continues his streak of making hypnotic, challenging character stories. (Capote, Moneyball) Miller is at his best when the wrestling takes center stage. The sport of wrestling, probably the most intimate of sports, gave a beautiful backdrop to the emotional turmoil at play. The grounds of Foxcatcher provided beautiful shot after beautiful shot. Some of Miller's more interesting scenes in the film have minimal setups. For example, when du Pont and Mark first meet, the entire scene is covered in two shots. That scene is a lengthy one. Usually, I go bananas for minimal coverage in scenes, but when there are multiple edits with only a few setups, especially for longer scenes, it begins to feel repetitive. Who knows if this decision was dictated by performance or technical reasons, but I can only judge it based on the final product. Some of the repetition, coupled with a few meaningless scenes, did make the movie drag at times. The overall pace of the film felt right. But there were too many transitions where it felt like we would hold on a shot for 5 seconds too long. I know Miller was in the editing room for almost a year on this project and I think that shows. Fresh eyes are never a bad thing. But then again, I'm not the one nominated for an Oscar.