Foxcatcher tells the story based on real events. John du Pont, eccentric millionaire and wresting enthusiast, invited Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz to stay on his farm and be part of the wrestling team John coaches. The movie details the complicated personalities of two men, their odd relationship and Mark's older brother Dave care for his brother, as well as the inevitable tragedy that occurred on Foxcatcher farm.
We had a lot of themes in movies in 2014. One of such themes, a common thread in many films, were the lives of outsiders. Some just odd, but friendly, like in The Skeleton Twins. Some dangerous and psychopathic, like in Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. But there were no outsiders stranger in films of 2014 than those depicted in this film.
I'm not just talking about John du Pont. Mark Schultz, compassionately portrayed by Channing Tatum, is an outsider too. He would be completely lonely had it not been for his caring brother Dave. When du Pont reaches out to him, Mark feels special, he feels found. It stroke me that this is a guy who was always in the shadow of his brother - who was more well adjusted and friendly, a family man, everyone's favorite pal. And now there is someone who finally takes interest in Mark.
As for du Pont he was living for other people's admiration and approval, in spite of all the luxuries and money he had, he still felt awful if others didn't look up to him. The film refrains from showing his paranoid behavior for the better half of its run time so in some moments you genuinely feel bad for him, seeing him humiliate himself, this sad, little man doing everything for others to pat him on the back. There is a cringe worthy scene of him showing off as a coach in front of his mother and it's almost impossible not to feel sorry for him in this sequence.
There are a lot of claims being made that this is a cold movie. It's very far from truth. This film is screaming with emotions, it's simply that these are negative, destructive, depressing emotions. Feelings of being alone, abandoned, discarded, under appreciated. Mark and John live for approval of others and without it, when they fail, no matter how small of a failure they suffer, they collapse into pits of either deep depression or profound insanity.
We see these two men strive for respect of others and the film provides so many effective scenes, no matter what happens, whether that respect is gained or lost - when John is having fun with he team there is uneasiness to it, because even though they are all cheering for him, you know they still think he is an incredibly odd guy. Another powerful moment happens when John loses it with Mark and slaps him Mark spins out of control.
Because of the unpredictability of these two and the destructive energy of these scenes Mark Ruffalo's Dave shines so bright. Here is a good guy, someone everyone likes, someone who loves his family and who is there for his brother. In comparison to all those moments even when Mark and John's destructive qualities peek through, Dave's warmth comes in and hits you even more powerfully.
The film's conclusion comes in out of nowhere, again because of the film's downplaying of du Pont's actions. It's the single most shocking thing I've seen last year. I knew it will happen, I knew it will happen in that scene but seeing it go down just made my heart ache. Seeing the most decent character in the film suffer such fate and knowing this is actually what happened hits you like a ton of bricks.
There is such profound honesty to scenes with Dave in this movie, but the most deeply memorable honesty is in scenes with magnificent Vanessa Redgrave who plays du Pont's mother. Du Pont lives in fantasy world - no one tells him the truth because he pays them money so no one wants to risk that. He even wins some wrestling matches because his people paid off his opponents (something that he was probably in the dark about). He lives in this gigantic bubble and whenever something doesn't go according to his plan, whenever people don't act like the chess pieces on his personal board, he snaps. His disbelief about Dave not wanting to come over to the farm and take his money is so incredibly well portrayed by Carell. Here's the guy who never heard 'no, I don't want your money' before in his entire life.
And it's only his mother, the person whose approval means the most to du Pont, that tells him the truth. She is cold to him and we only see her in short moments, but there is so much mystery to her character. It's clear she failed rising John. But did she fail because she loved him, spoiled him and now turned bitter seeing what she has done to her own son? Or was she always cruel and dismissive of him? Redgrave has such short screentime here but she is absolutely mesmerizing - she depicts such profound disgust and disappointment.
Director Bennett Miller for me is the guy who should be getting all the love Christopher Nolan is getting. This is a proper director right here. Interestingly he made three movies so far, all made about real events. And he has chooses such interesting stories as his subject - while we all know the story of Capote or at least we heard of it, the stories of Billy Beane, the Schultzes and Du Pont are relatively unknown.
He takes all those stories and he always shows them with such patience, with so much detail, never judging the characters, never appearing subjective, just carefully, meticulously showing us these people, telling us their stories, leaving us to make our own conclusions. It's a very effective, respectful and fascinating way to make a movie. This is what makes his movies so immensely rewatchable for me - he makes those people so interesting and so mysterious, he tells you a lot about them, but still enough to make you wonder - why did they do the things they did? Why did they become this way?
The directing is fantastic but what really stays with you are the three main performances.
According to Channing Tatum, he and Mark Ruffalo
spent an intensive five to six months training for wrestling, which had
taken its toll on the actors. During one particularly physical take,
Channing insisted to Ruffalo to "to just slap the shit out of me and get
it over with", which resulted in Channing's eardrum accidentally
getting popped. The actors would train after filming, which would leave them in tears due to exhaustion. It's such a commendable effort and the wrestling scenes in the film look very realistic, particularly with Ruffalo, who used to wrestle in his youth.
But what really strikes you is how well these actors portrayed their characters. Tatum has been choosing some very varied roles lately, doing both comedy and drama, and he is really wonderful here portraying fragile and confused Mark. And Ruffalo, who always brings such warmth to his characters, is just excellent as Dave. His interview scene where Dave is forced to praise du Pont, someone he clearly despises and pities, is a powerhouse of acting.
But for me it's Steve Carell who steals the movie. I've spent hours, probably days if you add that time up, laughing at his work in The Office where he played Michael Scott. Carell is one of the funniest comedy actors out there but I was very impressed with his lovely work in underseen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World few years ago. But here, what he did in Foxcatcher, it's truly worthy of all the praise.
I'm normally not a big fan of an actor changing the way they look for performance. It reeks of Oscar bait. But here, while Carell's physical transformation is incredible - he is barely recognizable - the way he transforms his movement, his voice, his facial tricks, it's even more astonishing. There were only one or two moments in the whole film where I felt this is the same actor who played Michael Scott.
The way that du Pont madness is shown is toned down in the movie. I think in part it's because largely we are watching Mark's perspective - and he wants John approval, therefore he probably dismisses most of his insane antics - and in part because that is Miller's way of telling a story - he leaves it for you to decide why what happened, happened. If we saw du Pont driving his car into a lake or pointing a shotgun at people, we would draw a conclusion that du Pont is simply mad. But this is something that even real Mark Schultz disputes, claiming that du Pont's insanity claims were only a trick to get lower sentencing.
There is a clever little trick near the end of the movie where there is montage-like strain of scenes that show du Pont becoming more insecure, paranoid and odd. It all culminates in tragedy and when you see it happen you don't feel it is out of the blue, as shocking as it is. There are several moments when we see du Pont looking hurt and jealous of affection Dave and Mark share.
But what is it really the reason? What was the final straw? The film leaves answers to you. You may think reading this that this is all really ambiguous but in spite of the lack of flashy scenes that du Pont's downward spiral was given, there is enough here. There is also the key, incredibly shot, moment with horses, horses that his mother loved more than she loved him, if she did love him at all. Horses that du Pont never understood much like he never understood the people around him, their emotions, nobility and love all a strange and foreign concept to John.
There are moments in the movie that had not handled well, could become unintentionally funny but Miller has amazing control over material - while what happens in the helicopter and the moment when John tells Mark about Golden Eagle nickname is insane and ridiculous, there is a sinister vibe to these moments.
The film's cinematography really deserves a mention. It's just
stunning and the whole film is impressively well made. I'm surprised it's not
getting more nominations in technical categories because it certainly
deserves them. There's also an understated score that never takes the focus away from the picture but adds plenty of tension to the scenes.
According to Bennett Miller's comments at one of the film's screenings, a rough cut of the film was more than four hours long. Well, I'm still waiting for The Assassination of Jesse James director's cut but I'd love to see the one for Foxcatcher too. Why is that Lars Von Trier can unleash his shitty films in director's cut but good directors don't have a chance to do that with actual good movies?
is one of the most impressive movies of 2014. Granted, it may not be my
favorite movie. It may not even be entertaining movie. It may not employ the
gimmick of being shot over many, many years. But in terms of the
maturity, skill and the approach to the story and its execution in the film this is one of the most accomplished works in film in 2014. It's a difficult, difficult movie but it's one that is certainly worth seeing.
I cannot wait to see what story Bennett Miller has for us next.
Foxcatcher (2014, 129 min)
E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Plot: The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team
Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train
for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely