Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher is a film that gives a lot of people a chance to shine.  A look at the lives of David and Mark Schultz, both of whom were Olympic amateur wrestlers and John E. Du Pont, an American millionaire and wrestling fan who runs Foxcatcher Farms on his mansion estate and wishes for it to be the headquarters of the USA’s wrestling program.  It’s a true life story and one that I shall not spoil for those of you that are unaware of its outcome, needless to say, there is a reason it has made its way onto film.

Now, despite being a pro wrestling fan, I have to admit I have little knowledge of amateur wrestling, beyond the very basic at least.  However, director Bennet Miller (who is the first person to shine in Foxcatcher) insures that is not an issue.  You might never truly figure out the intricacies of wrestling, but you’ll get enough to get you through and wrestling is not really what this film is about.  It is about the men that inhabit that world.  That world, or at least the version of it that Miller creates, is a dark one.  Totally dominated by these men, Miller films in dull colours, it’s a perpetual twilight and one that hints towards the dark events that are unraveling.  This is not the only risk he takes, the other one being with the pacing.  Foxcatcher never really speeds up and instead plods along at a slow, intricate pace.  It might leave some glancing at their watch, but personally it left me gripped.  The film is almost as a tactical as the sport itself.  Slowly feeling you out, before slipping you into its final hold.

Possibly the person who shines the most (and is definitely the biggest surprise) is Channing Tatum.  In Foxcatcher he plays a character we have never seen from him before.  He is no longer the cool frat boy, posing with his top off.  Instead, he is a big lumbering hulk.  Quick and graceful in the ring, but constantly seeming out-of-place in the real world.  He is never able to get across his feelings, at least not without losing his temper and just seems a constant oddity, never quite fitting into the environment around him.  Tatum plays it brilliantly.  You understand his characters frustration, as his brother, Dave Schultz, seemingly hogs the limelight, in part due to his own wrestling skill and in part due to his much more magnetic personality.

Dave is acted by Mark Ruffalo, who continues his rise to the top of the acting food chain.  He gets across that inate likability with ease.  He is probably the actor playing most to type, although some might argue he’s not someone you would consider as an Olympian athlete, but we always want to like him and he makes sure that is the case.  Despite barely getting to know his family, the short scenes he is around them is enough to show his devotion to them, as Ruffalo plays the fun-loving dad who just happens to spend his week twisting men up in the ring.  His relationship with his brother is also strong and you never don’t feel like him and Tatum haven’t had years and years of history together.

Maybe the actor playing most against type is Steve Carell, who plays Du Pont.  This isn’t a comic role, although it so easily could have been.  Du Pont is a ridiculous character, one who will quite happily state that his friends call him ‘eagle or golden eagle’ and it would have been easy for Carell to play him for laughs.  He doesn’t do that however and instead focuses on making him an entirely unlikable  person.  Right from the second you meet him, you feel on edge.  He brings an awkwardness to every conversation and his slow mannered way of speaking gives you the impression he is thinking over every line, before he utters it.  It is a brilliantly unsettling performance and shows that Carell is much more than the comic actor we are used to seeing from him.

All of this comes together to make a good film, that while it verges on great, never quite reaches it.  It is hugely watchable and despite its slow pace I was never once looking at my watch.  But it just feels like there is something missing.  Everything is played very straight and while to these men it is a serious world, a bit of levity may have just brought the whole thing together much better.  As things stand, this is one that you can expect to see in nearly all of the award races, but it is one that I would be very surprised to see take home many of its own.

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