Film review Foxcatcher is not really a sports story, it’s a dark epic of power, patriotism, paranoia and envy that just so happens to include professional wrestling.
The story begins with the working class brothers and wrestling champions David (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). While both have won gold at the Olympics, it is the older, calmer David who exudes success, his easygoing manner and cheerful family a stark contrast to the obsessive and lonely life of his younger brother.
Their wrestling training gives the film the perfect excuse to demonstrate that despite the envy and discord that runs through their relationship. The brothers are close, their sparring and grappling is both violent and affectionate, culminating in a gruff request from David to “Gimme a hug”.
That chip on Mark’s shoulder makes him the perfect target for the wealthy John du Pont, played with utterly unnerving pauses by a heavily prosthetic-ed Steve Carrell.
John tells Schultz that he wants to build a team of wrestlers on his estate (much as his family once bred and trained thoroughbred horses) and shows him around the state of the art gym he’s already built. Just why he wants to do this is a mystery, but Mark is sold on the virtually meaningless but deep-sounding phrases he continuously mouths about America and patriotism.
There is a catch, though – John doesn’t just want Mark, he wants David, too. But David doesn’t want to uproot his family, no matter how much money John offers.
Mark and John find enough echoes of envy and dissatisfaction in each other to form a friendship, despite the increasingly deranged behaviour of the millionaire. But it’s not enough for John to find a friend, he wants to win gold and when Mark starts to like the good life a little too much, he’s quickly thrown over for his brother.
The three men together are unable to find a relationship that works, with David and John tussling over Mark’s future and the good-natured wrestler unable to submit blindly to John’s erratic mentoring as Mark once did.
Above all else, this is a film about power, the power of money, fame and glory played out on the wrestling mat when David beats Mark or when Mark and the other wrestlers allow the inexperienced and over-50 John du Pont to “train” or even win against them.
All three leads turn in stellar performances, although Ruffalo’s understated bear of a big brother and Tatum’s complex mix of working class grit and ambition with painful social awkwardness will likely be eclipsed by Carrell’s deeply unsettling portrayal of incipient madness.
Few characters have ever been so repellent, from the small yellow teeth so infrequently flashed in a smile to the stilting delivery of supposed words of wisdom, Carrell makes du Pont a repugnant yet fascinating figure.
Foxcatcher is based on a true story, but if you don’t know the details, keep it that way before the movie comes to its shockingly senseless conclusion. It’s a little too long, but this is a great film about the corrupting influence of power, fame and money. ®
Director Bennett Miller
Cast Steve Carrell, Sienna Miller, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum
Release date 9 January (UK) / 14 November 2014 (US)
More info Movie website