The first thing it is important to note when writing about ‘Foxcatcher’, is that it is a very quiet film. There are long scenes and moments in which there is very little dialogue, which makes you feel more uncomfortable when the silence is broken by a voice or sound. ‘Foxcatcher’ is a polar opposite to the last film I reviews: ‘Birdman’; the latter is loud and busy with chaos if full focus all around Riggan Thomson, but in ‘Foxcatcher’, the director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) is more subtle in how he introduces the chaos. Critics have described the film as ‘uncomfortable’ and I think it suits it perfectly. I knew what was going to happen when I walked in, but Miller makes you wait for the big moment, and even then it catches you by surprise – it’s been a long time since I jumped like I did watching the film.
‘Birdman’ is a bright film with opportunities to smile and laugh, whereas ‘Foxcatcher’ uses darker colours, with a constant underurrant of foreboding tradgedy as the story goes on. Some of the shots of Valley Forge look beautiful, and Miller lines up his shots for most of the film in a way which closes the camera off. The frame remains still whilst the actors play within. This makes the film feel slow at the beginning but over time you get a better chance to see the setting and landscape, as well as the characters develop.
Where the film has received most praise (and deservedly so) is for its acting chops. If you google John E. Du Pont (The E. stands for eagle), then you will find the documentary featuring him which we see being made within the film. From this you see how creepy Du Pont is even at this stage as well as gaining an idea at how excellent Steve Carell’s performance is. Carell is almost unrecongisable in the main role, apart from one small scene in a helicopter with Channing Tatum which does remind you of his comedic prowess. It would be easy to make Du Pont a more comic character, but what Carell does so well is making him real. He constantly sits on the fence between being evoking sympathy and disgust and is one of the most interesting movie characters we have seen so far this year.
While it is John Du Pont who casts a long shadow over the movie, he is not the only actor to have transformed into a great portrayal. Channing Tatum would be considered the lead actor, and he is very good at losing his charisma as Mark Schultz – an olympic gold medal winning wrestler who Du Pont wants to turn into the very best in the world. Mark doesn’t catch on easily, but Tatum manages to hold the picture together in what is a very different type of movie to the ones he is normall associated with.
The final member of ‘Foxcatcher’s’ trio of leads is Mark Ruffalo, who won’t win anything this year behind JK Simmons and Edward Norton; but nonetheless deserves the plaudits as he plays Mark’s brother Dave. With a gruff beard and balding haircut, Ruffalo also manages to lose the charm which normally makes him stand out. However, it is still easy to empathise with Dave; a dedicated family man who cares for his brother immensley. One of the most interesting scenes of the film is one of the very first; in which Mark and Dave train together – it is a low-key, quiet piece of choreography which still tells us all we need to know about their relationship.
The cast is rounded off by brief but important appearances by Sienna Miller (as Dave’s wife) and Vannessa Redgrave (who does a lot with very little as Du Pont’s mother). ‘Foxcatcher’ is a film about how life can unravel because of the way some men find it difficult to talk openly about deep stuff. It hinges on three relationships: the one between the two Du Ponts, the relationship between John and Mark, and the relationship between Dave and Mark. The scenes which Carell and Redgrave share are nothing short of daunting, as we see how Mrs Du Pont betrays her contempt for wrestling, and dislike as to how her son has chose it above sports which are more befitting his station. Until the age of sixteen Du Pont had one best friend – who he then found out was being paid by Mrs Du Pont to be his friend. The relationship between John and Mark creates scenes which border on homoeroticism, and you see more about wrestiling as a ritual for these men who seem to be insecure about themselves within their souls.
‘Foxcatcher’ is a film which has probably suffered due to a story which doesn’t need a running time of well over two hours. However, I was utterly engrossed in ‘Foxcatcher’ and I didn’t even think about looking at my watch until over half way through.
Verdict: It isn’t a thriller that will have you on the edge of your sleep, but it is a drama that will have you cowering behind the sofa. It’s dark, slow and quiet – but it makes a film that could have been very ordinary into something very special indeed.