Film Review: Foxcatcher

Monday 9 February 2015 by

Foxcatcher, Film, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, True story, Mark Ruffalo

Hailed as the thriller of the year, Foxcatcher is the true story of John du Pont, brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, and the Foxcatcher wrestling team. As a rule, I wouldn’t normally be interested in seeing a film about wrestling, but after the rave reviews, I thought I would give it a go.

Du Pont (a virtually unrecognisable Steve Carell) was the head of the “richest family in America”, and had an obsession with wrestling, believing that it would bring pride back to the country. Mark and Dave Schultz were wrestling champions – winning gold medals at the 1984 Olympics – but are on the down and out. When Mark (Channing Tatum with a fairly impressive prosthetic nose) is approached by du Pont to head up his new wrestling team, Foxcatcher, he finds the glamour, riches and lifestyle irresistible. Du Pont promises to bring him a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics, but it soon starts to go wrong as the volatile Mark and changeable du Pont start to come up against one another.

Dave, Mark’s older brother and wrestling coach (played by Mark Ruffalo), is brought on board, but the divide is irreparable, with Mark leaving soon after failing at the Olympics. But du Pont is left embittered by the situation, and it culminates in a dramatic and terrifying conclusion.

I don’t feel like I’m spoilering this by saying that du Pont ends up shooting and killing Dave for a suspected slight, and went to prison (where he died in 2010). This is, after all, based on a true story, and is easily Google-able if you don’t already know it.

As a film, I was surprised by much I enjoyed it; the wrestling held no interest, but the intrigue, social politics, and ultimately the performances kept me interested. Carell, perhaps trying to step away from being typecast as a comedian, plays du Pont with chilling viciousness, offering an incredible performance from someone who could so easily be written off as the “thick one from Anchorman”. He proves his acting chops and then some, delivering the charismatic, inspirational lines amongst the cold and venomous ones with skill. With the slightest flicker of his eyes he portrays du Pont’s changeable nature, and it gives you goosebumps when he expresses the megalomaniac nature that ultimately drove him to his downfall.

As for Tatum, the same could again be said. Risking typecasting, he plays the slow-moving, emotional Mark with skill. Throughout, he appears a lumbering, ape-like man, desperate for a moment of glory that seems to have passed him by. His character is enormously empathetic – desperate to please and yet desperately fragile, Mark is easily manipulated by du Pont, and when it starts to go wrong, Tatum’s breakdown is just heartbreaking.

Although Ruffalo’s performance is predictably stellar, it is Tatum and Carell that steal the show. Sceptical of its “thriller” description, the tension, along with a perfectly-pitched musical score, far surpasses any usual thriller. It’s on a par with The Talented Mr Ripley when it comes to bone-chilling dread. It is just a shame that it features wrestling- something I really don’t have any interest in, and know very little about (although having seen this, I have some idea of the scoring system!)

Biopics or “based on a true story” films are hard to judge without taking in to account the circumstances, and yet this seems to balance well between creating a watchable fiction and telling the truth. It’s an interesting topic to choose for a blockbuster, and the choice of cast only serves to make it more so. It’s not Oscar-worthy, but is certainly mightier than many films, and deserves applause. A pleasant surprise of a film.

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