A film in which Steve Carell wears a prosthetic nose and plays a wealthy man with aspirations of being a wrestling coach, it’s a comedy right? Wrong, Foxcatcher is about as far removed from Carell’s normal routine as you could possibly imagine. Instead it is a dark, twisted and often daunting story that will have you chewing your finger nails for most of its running time.
Foxcatcher tells the true story of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler who feels destined to live in the shadow of his elder brother, who is also an Olympic winning wrestler, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). That is until Mark is invited out to the Foxcatcher Farm to meet millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell). Du Pont wants Mark to coach his wrestling team and lead them to Olympic gold again. But as Mark becomes increasingly seeped in du Pont’s world so he becomes manipulated and used by the mysterious and potentially dangerous man who has his sites set on nabbing Dave to come and help with the coaching.
Foxcatcher is never easy viewing. It’s a film that telegraphs the dread and underlying threat from the get-go. The moment we arrive on Foxcatcher Farm there is a prickle in the air, a skin-crawl of unease that director Bennett Miller evokes through very intentionally locked camera movements and a quietly tinkering score. Tonally it bares more in common with a David Lynch film, that ability to have you unnerved from the moment the story kicks in. Its narrative is simple but the foreboding doom in almost every scene never lets you relax.
Instead the film unfolds, gradually and deliberately towards an end goal and in doing so we’re given key insights into the workings of du Pont and the Schultz brothers. Mark, played with caveman-like vacancy by a wonderfully on-song Channing Tatum, is a frustrated loner, a man desperate for some kind of recognition and attention. Dave meanwhile, a typically warm and affecting performance from Ruffalo, is a family man, a man perfectly content with his lot in life and often worried about his younger brother’s state of mind. An early sparring scene between Tatum and Ruffalo perfectly captures the two brothers’ sense of place in the world, Ruffalo’s Dave always looking and monitoring his brother, Tatum’s Mark hostile and anxious to prove himself his brother’s equal.
All the while du Pont watches, sinister and unpleasant, all too aware that his financial power is seductive to Mark. One minute treating him like a favourite son the next an almost jilted lover desperate to hurt him. Carell has never been this good, his transformation into du Pont is terrifying. The prosthetics help but it’s in Carell’s total embodiment of the role that elicits the greatest shiver down the spine. He’s a vulture always looking down his beaky nose with conniving glances and Machiavellian scheming. Imagine if Psycho’s Mrs. Bates lived and Norman had grown-up always anxious to please her, this is du Pont. He even shares Norman’s obsession with birds while his mother, a brilliantly fleeting but powerful performance from Vanessa Redgrave, watches on, never quite understanding her son’s desperate need to impress her with a sport she feels is beneath the du Pont name.
Foxcatcher is a deeply chilling film, a story told with often fleeting brevity in terms of narrative but dark and viscous when it comes to atmosphere and depth of character, it will wrestle you to the ground and leave you gasping in a breath-squeezing choke hold.