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Non-Review Review: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is exhausting.

Director Bennett Miller’s account of the relationship between billionaire John “Eagle” DuPont and the Schultz brothers is a draining experience. Beautiful performances, stunning cinematography and a minimalist script create an uncomfortable and looming sense of dread. Even those unfamiliar with the story DuPont’s sponsorship of the United States Olympic Wrestling Team cannot help but feel tragedy bearing down. Foxcatcher is a heartbreaking and harrowing piece of work, an affecting and unsettling tale of power, desperation and loneliness.

Wrestling with demons...

Wrestling with demons…

Foxcatcher is beautifully crafted. Every element of the production is carefully and meticulously put together. Steve Carell transforms himself to play the role of DuPont, assisted by superb make-up overseen by Bill Corso and his team. Every frame of the movie looks crisp, the blues and reds and yellows popping out of the screen; Greig Fraser’s cinematography effectively captures the starkness of the Pennsylvanian landscape across the seasons. Miller is comfortable enough to let Foxcatcher unfold at its own pace, never rushing.

The result is a compelling and grimly fascinating story, told elegantly. There are points when Foxcatcher perhaps seems a little too distant and clinical, but the three lead performances help to keep the film firmly grounded.

To catch a fox...

To catch a fox…

A lot of what unfolded on DuPont’s Foxcatcher Farm in January 1996 is still a mystery. There are still gaps in the story, holes that have been filled with conjecture and speculation. Indeed, Foxcatcher proposes nothing too novel or startling about the crime in question – the film’s central psychological points pivot around a line of inquiry that has been open since the earliest investigative reports into the events of 26th January 1996. With the death of John DuPont in 2010, we may never know the truth behind what happened.

While Foxcatcher plays around with the chronology of DuPont’s involvement with Mark and David Schultz, it is never particularly interested in the specifics of those events. Instead, it draws from the larger context around those events to sketch an uncomfortable portrait of wealth and power, disconnect and repression. John E. DuPont was a larger-than-life character, with Foxcatcher only briefly brushing up against some of the more intriguing (and perhaps sensationalist) facets of his life on Foxcatcher Farm.

Putting our heads together...

Putting our heads together…

Steve Carell inhabits the role of John DuPont, an eccentric middle-aged man from old money. He never shared his mother’s fascination with breeding horses, and so fancies himself “a leader of men.” Instead, DuPont recruits a stable of wrestlers, ambitiously plotting to lead the United States wrestling team to glory at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. He recruits gold medallist Mark Schultz to assist him in this endeavour; allowing Schultz to name his fee and investing heavily in training materials and facilities, DuPont aggressively pursues his interest.

“What’s in it for him?” Dave Schultz idly wonders early in the film, somewhat more cautious of DuPont than his younger brother. DuPont claims to be “a patriot”, hoping to give Americans something to aspire towards. “My friends call me ‘Eagle’ or ‘Great Eagle’,” he boasts to Mark Schultz at one point. After a moment, he seems to accept that his self-chosen nickname might be a little ostentatious. “Or John. Or Coach.” DuPont takes an inevitable interest in watching his team wrestle, and even plans to compete himself in the over fifties category.

Where the Ruffalo roam...

Where the Ruffalo roam…

Under some truly impressive make-up – including a distinctive prosthetic nose – Carell makes DuPont a deeply fascinating character. There is something uncanny to his movements and his speech patterns, a sense that DuPont is not quite right even when reading from rehearsed speeches prepared by well-paid advisers. Given his family’s history manufacturing ammunition, his fascination with firearms is understandable; even as Miller’s direction and E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s make it clear this interest is less-than-wholesome.

Carell’s performance is bound to dominate discussion of the film. It is nothing short of a transformation – and one that goes beyond the impressive prosthetics. Carell changes his body language and tempo, seeming to sink into chairs and slouch around rooms. It is a performance that is utterly unlike any Carell has given to this point, one that could easily have wondered into the realm of parody or caricature, but remains human thanks to the stellar work of the lead actor. It is revelatory.

Seat of power...

Seat of power…

Of course, Carell is ably supported by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum as the Schultz brothers. The two change their entire body language to inhabit the role of professional wrestlers, their muscles seemingly moving in different ways – as if distorted by years spent in the ring. There is something oddly touching to the way that the Schultz brothers transform wrestling into a familial gesture, hugging in a way that evokes their time in the ring. Both Tatum and Ruffalo offer nuanced and well-crafted performances, breathing life into the film.

Indeed, “well-crafted” seems like the perfect adjective to describe Foxcatcher. There are points where everything almost seems a little too finely tuned, a little too perfectly configured. There are moments when Foxcatcher almost loses sight of the characters within the story, as if drifting off into a more abstract treatise on loneliness and desperation. However, the cast are also quick to ground the film – lending psychological realism and emotional weight to a screenplay that can occasionally feel a little too detached or disconnected.

Suits you, sir!

Suits you, sir!

Foxcatcher is a powerful piece of work. It is a fascinating story told particularly well. It is understated and nuanced, considered and thoughtful. It is also put together with fantastic skill by just about everybody working on the film. While the film occasionally feels just a little too cold or clinical, it is always intriguing and beautiful. And harrowing. And haunting.

2 Responses

  1. It’s a hard movie to watch. But the cast, man, the cast. They’re all so good, it was difficult for me to take my eyes off of or not get mesmerized by. Even if the source material is unsettling. Good review.

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