MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Foxcatcher’ Is Unsettling, Bleak, And Powerful

foxcatcher

Film: Foxcatcher
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Directed By: Bennett Miller

Foxcatcher is a film about dynasties; the kind that people build through money or sports accomplishments. The people that lead them are put on or put themselves upon pedestals, furthering themselves away from society and becoming disconnected. John du Pont (Steve Carell) is one of those people. Besides having serious mommy issues, John is looking for the next way to expand his influence. Olympic wrestler and simpleton, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), is the perfect vessel for John’s views about how to achieve success and the American dream. Bennett Miller’s newest ‘based on true events’ picture is his best and most scathingly satirical, in the darkest way possible.

Mark Schultz (Tatum), winner of the gold medal in wrestling in the 1985 Olympics, is a quiet, angry and poor man come the cold winter of 1995. John Du Pont (Carell) is the man who wants to uproot him from his mundane existence and back him to win another wrestling championship. Mark’s coach brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), notices that something is fishy about this whole situation. What follows is Du Pont’s increasing jealousy of the brotherhood that the wrestling duo shares, as he gets more and more erratic around the men that he’s paying to win a championship.

The concept of father figures plays a huge role in Foxcatcher. Du Pont sees himself as a parental figure to Mark as their friendship builds. Mark, resembling a small child mentally, is all starry-eyed at the first person that approaches him and makes him feel good about himself. Heartbreak comes often in childhood though, and that becomes evident once Du Pont takes total control of Mark and then casts him off to the side in search for the next best thing. The bond that Mark and his brother Dave share is the most human thing in the movie, focusing more on how that kind of bond can be mutualistic in love instead of parasitic.

Steve Carell is haunting in a prosthetic nose and speech like a sadistic version of an inspiring speaker. He plays a character that prides himself on being an American patriot, hence why the giant farm he owns is next to Valley Forge. His monologues are laced with a sense of unsettledness, like at any moment he will lash out at someone. Carell helps and exceeds at setting the tone for the film, the long pauses between sentences and judging stares he doles out will have you crawling in your skin.

John Du Pont is like Mark, a person looking for appreciation in the wrong places. In his case, that wrong place is in the form of his mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave). Jean takes pride in the horses she takes care of and the dynasty she created by providing the military with munitions. She sees John’s fascination with men’s wrestling as a foolish venture, proving nothing more than the fact that her son resents her for not respecting his decisions in life. Redgrave may be a bit underused but as a character that almost only serves to be context in the story, she helps the viewer sink into the dark expanse that is the whole film.

Channing Tatum, an actor who gets hired for his abs or dopey personality, plays a different kind of dumb in this. Sure, Mark is a very simple guy who takes everything to heart and punishes himself physically for whatever disappointment he may cause. What Tatum does is add another layer of discomfort to the narrative, making our hearts break at the slightest notion of him being misled and our stomachs uneasy at the slightest notion of self-harm. Mark Ruffalo is great as Dave Schultz, too. Dave plays the other side of the spectrum on the subject of John Du Pont, he knows something weird is going on but he can’t quite put his finger on it.

Where Bennett Miller excels in direction with Foxcatcher is with the constant air of tension that surrounds all of the characters. The tension is like an ethereal presence that everyone knows is around but can’t predict its next move. Miller knows the material he’s adapting can seem extremely dour, which is why he pushes all of his characters to be unsettling to the point where the audience is instigated to laugh and scoff at the events on screen. Foxcatcher is also the first film I have seen in a while where having almost no score or source of background music only enhances the genius put onto screen.

Foxcatcher begins with archival footage of a fox running away from hunters at the farms that this film takes place in. A fox is sly, quick, and unpredictable. None of the people in the film are foxes, they all just carry personal philosophies (complicated or not) that make them slow prey to the forced idea of patriotism and the American dream. Mark is easily duped (hunted). Dave is a bit harder to be duped (hunted). John disguises himself as a person who runs with the pack but is trying to hunt the people he supports in increasingly berating, emotional ways until they flower into something physical and tragic.

GRADE: A

Review written by Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen

Sam Cohen is that guy you can't have a conversation with without bringing up Michael Mann. He is also incapable of separating himself from his teenage angst (looking at you, Yellowcard). Read on as he tries to formulate words about movies!
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