Dir: Bennett Miller. US. 2014. 134mins
The strikingly dark and tragic story of the unlikely relationship between a repressed and deeply eccentric millionaire and two champion wrestlers, Bennett Miller’s impressively sustained Foxcatcher is a wonderfully taut and thoughtfully unnerving drama likely to attract awards attention thanks to three very different lead performances that dovetail perfectly.
There is a sense of scale to the film given its astute use of locations as well as an intriguing balance between a moneyed American family whose lineage runs through generations of powerful individuals and two blue-collar men who found fame through wrestling.
While much attention will be heaped on Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose and his moody performance as troubled millionaire John Eleuthère du Pont, it is the nuanced performances by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum that act as the perfect balance for Carell’s haughty obsessive. Director Bennett Miller’s ability to let his story gradually develop and allow complex characters to be gently revealed is perfect for this intriguing period story that gather’s momentum towards a shocking climax.
While hefty in terms of running time – it runs over two hours – there is a sense of scale to the film given its astute use of locations as well as an intriguing balance between a moneyed American family whose lineage runs through generations of powerful individuals and two blue-collar men who found fame through wrestling.
The opening scenes of archive footage of wealthy folk out fox-hunting sets the scene for the background to the fabulously wealthy du Pont family (who made their money in munitions) and the Foxcatcher estate, now overseen by heir John du Pont (Carell) and his elderly mother (Vanessa Redgrave, whose cameo performance in a couple of telling scenes is quietly memorable).
Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) is invited by du Pont to move to the family estate to form a team to train for the 1998 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility. For quiet and intense Mark it is the chance to escape from the shadow of his more outgoing and popular brother Dave (Ruffalo), with him finding a father-figure of sorts in the distracted, self-obsessed and cold du Pont.
For du Pont his obsession with wrestling is a chance to promote himself and also acts as a contrast to his mother’s passion for horses. In a rare audience with his mother she dismisses wrestling as ‘low’. There is a homo-erotic subtext to the growing relationship between du Pont and Mark (with the wrestling a very physical but non-explicit manifestation) as he also introduced him to drugs and hard drink, but du Pont’s manipulative tendency causes a rift between them when he recruits Dave to come and join the wrestling team.
The relationship between the three men gets darkly complex, with du Pont eventually taking offence to the fact that blood is stronger than water (or even the hefty wages he pays them) as Dave sides with his brother as he tries to prepare for the Olympics. But du Pont is not a man to be trifled with, with a repressed darkness gradually taking over him and eventually leading to a tragic incident.
International sales: Annapurna International, www.annapurnapics.com
Producers: Megan Ellison, Bennett Miller, Jon Kilik, Anthony Bregman
Executive producers: Chelsea Barnard, Ron Scmidt, Mark Bakshi, Michael Coleman, Tom Heller
Screenplay: E Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Editors: Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill, Jay Cassidy
Production designer: Jess Conchor
Music: Rob Simonsen
Main cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Dave ‘Doc’ Bennett