Foxcatcher, like the classic Raging Bull, is a movie that is seemlingly about sports but the sport it depicts, wrestling in this case, is secondary next to the feelings that drive their characters to it. In Foxcatcher, we see how several characters are drawn to wrestling for many different reasons: be it a chance to prove themselves, differentiate themselves from their family, denied homosexuality, or even as a political statement. Though Foxcatcher illustrates this beautifully, the mysterious and remote nature of the film made it difficult for me to connect with.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic wrestler now relegated to twenty dollar speaking engagements originally meant for his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic wrestler. When John du Pont (Steve Carell) offers Mark to train and coach other wrestlers on his estate in an effort to control US wrestling, he accepts, liking the feeling of being sought after. However, once he arrives at Foxcatcher, du Pont merely uses him to get at his brother. The rage and resentment all three feel eventually erupts violently.
Said climax is my problem with the film. Emotional distance is something I don’t always dislike in a film, but I did here. That’s more personal preference than an actual criticism. However, a big part of that distance comes from the ending. (Spoilers ahead.) The central murder in the story is presently very strangely, and perhaps there is a reason for that, but I can’t seem to think of one. Mark eventually leaves Foxcatcher, and sometime after that, seemingly out of the blue, du Pont drives over to Dave’s house on the estate, calmly exits his car, and shoots Dave. Though his motivations are clear throughout the film (he wants to be everything that Dave is, and he most definitely isn’t), it’s weird to have du Pont just suddenly and aburpty do that. To quote another Scorsese film “there [aren’t] any arguements or curses like in the movies,” but this is a movie, and it just felt very strange and abrupt to me. The question is not why would du Pont do that, but what would make du Pont decide to do that at that exact moment?
At the heart of the film are the performances by the three main actors. Steve Carell is the obvious standout, looking almost unrecognizable in the role. However, he remains the most distant. Carell does a good job of creating a strange and specific character, but one that is so emotionally remote that it is only through his actions that we get to know him, not necessarily the performance itself. Mark Ruffalo does as good a job as ever here, particularly a standout in a scene for a promotional film when he is require to lie about du Pont and has a hard time doing it. However, the key to this movie for me was Tatum’s performance, which is done physically more than anything else. The way he carries himself suggests that he is trapped by his own body; when he’s not wrestling he doesn’t quite know what to do with himself. The middle part of the film with just him and du Pont starting off their relationship is particularly hard to watch; Mark looks so greatful to have someone appreciate him that he literally crawls at du Pont’s feet. This gratitude turns to rage as he finds himself in Dave’s shadow once again.
The pacing of the film is deliberate until the very end. Everything unfolds in long takes, and the colorscheme is meticulously controlled. Everything is photographed in dark, muted colors. There is color here, but it is not cheerful by any means. The way the wrestling scenes are shot is one of the highlights of the film; the camera seems to be choerographed just as well as the actors, moving with them just as they move. This conveys a harmony not seen at any other point in the film.
Foxcatcher is a good movie, even if some aspects of it seem a bit weird to me. Though I’m tempted again and again to critisize its emotional remoteness, I realize that’s quite unfair. That style reflects the characters, but nevertheless it makes the film a challenging watch sometimes. The performances are masterful, each contributing to the whole bizarre picture. It’s a film I’m going to have to admire more than love, but it’s a good film all the same.
“I just don’t wanna let you down.”
Long story short: 3.5/4 stars
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