Foxcatcher is glacial and lugubrious, but also deliberate and brilliant. For those familiar with the true events on which the film is based, this film may simply be superb, but for everyone else, the presentation will be difficult to approach. Nevertheless, by the end, the film makes sure to tie all of the disparate scenes together with one thin thematic thread that manages to remain hidden in plain sight until the filmmakers tug on it in a very obvious way. Couple the excellent filmmaking with some of the best performances by this unlikely cast, and audiences have a very compelling reason to give Foxcatcher a chance.
In the late 1980s, Olympic Gold Medalist wrestler, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), hasn’t benefited much from his achievement. When audiences meet him, he’s delivering speeches to elementary school children for the paltry sum of $20, which he uses to purchase a tiny feast at McDonalds. The rest of his day is spent training with his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who is also a Gold Medal-winning wrestler. The two brothers catch the eye of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), who has designs on building a Gold Medal-winning wrestling team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But while John may be able to purchase the presence and the work of the two brothers, he cannot buy the things he seeks the most: genuine human relationships and the true admiration of others.
Foxcatcher is a sad, dark tale for all parties involved, but it also cleverly illustrates a truth about the human condition throughout its many scenes. It’s easy to think that the characters are saying and doing things with one reason in mind, but as more information is revealed, true motives are uncovered, adding another layer to this wonderfully textured story. So when John records a documentary of himself extolling the virtues of a coach after installing himself as one, audiences may think this is simply a symptom of the megalomania that comes with being super-rich. But after seeing John’s extreme behavior at the end of the film, the impetus behind all of his actions becomes clear, shocking audiences’ senses with this revelatory experience.
The downside to the presentation is that it is not entirely clear who the story is about until the end of the film. Ostensibly, the film is about the relationships between the three men, Mark, Dave and John. Ultimately, however, this is John’s story since he is the one driving the action. The focus doesn’t really matter since the film sets audiences straight by the end, but clarity would have certainly helped along the way.
While the story might be difficult to approach for some viewers, the performances are not. Foxcatcher features a great cast and every actor delivers a standout performance. For Steve Carell, this is a role that removes all doubt of his ability as a serious actor. Not only does he completely disappear into his character, but he infuses every line of dialogue with meaning – even his pregnant pauses. Mark Ruffalo provides the humanity in the film, managing to capture nuances that are mere blips on screen, but convey volumes of meaning. Even Channing Tatum, not known for his dramatic work, covers new emotional range, proving once again that actors can escape pigeonholes if only given the opportunity to act.
It’s important not to oversell Foxcatcher, however; it’s definitely not for most audiences. With a running time of over two hours and faced with a lot of character-building scenes, it will be difficult to capture and maintain the attention of the average viewer. On the other hand, moviegoers looking for something genuine and well-crafted beyond the typical Hollywood offering will be pleasantly surprised by Foxcatcher.