October 17, 2014: Foxcatcher


I enjoyed Liberace and The Wrestler, but Foxcatcher‘s genre mash-up of the two is a tonal oddity.

Eccentric billionaire John E. Dupont (Carell) decides to coach and sponsor Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). A former Olympic gold medallist in wrestling and an isolated loner, Mark is at first intoxicated by the wealth and quirkiness of Du Pont who offers him glory and independence away from his coach brother. Mark has always struggled to forge an identity separate from his brother Dave Schultz (Mark Rufallo), a more emotionally intelligent and skilful wrestler.

Foxcatcher is a difficult film to engage with. Although director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) is rigorous in his depiction of the characters, we are never given an insight into their obviously fractured psyches. Instead we view them from afar – perhaps a correct vantage point given the social isolation of the two lead protagonists – but it also has a cumbersome pace, which by the end is frustrating instead of engrossing, as was presumably intended.

On the plus side, the acting is excellent. Rufallo again inhabits his role, showing us the intimacy of wrestling while Tatum shows us the aggression. Tatum’s Mark is a bumbling and undisciplined oaf without his brother and Tatum is thorough in his portrayal of Mark’s personal frustration with his inability to make his way without his more savvy brother.

It is also Carell’s first outing in a dramatic role since Little Miss Sunshine and he is almost unrecognisable, again demonstrating his versatility. It would be interesting to see if in the future Carell can turn his hand to characters that are not completely offbeat. But it is the offbeat Du Pont that is the centre of Foxcatcher. Carell’s delicate portrayal of Du Pont has the audience momentarily fooled – perhaps Du Pont has some self awareness that he plays up to be the character of a pompous, ridiculous rich man; however, as Du Pont’s behaviour becomes increasingly more erratic it is clear that this is a man with mental health issues rather than the mysterious genius that he attempts to present to the world.

If you come to the story blind, as I did, it’s hard to know what genre Foxcatcher fits into.  That it is not easily categorised is not immediately a negative characteristic, but neither is a genre-defying film. It’s just a bit messy. There are elements of a traditional sports film, and a drama, and a psychological thriller. It is these competing elements that will make this film hard to like for many.

It is at points excruciating to watch. Maybe it’s because no one likes to see an unstable millionaire being pandered to; or, alternately, the psychologically and emotionally vulnerable being taken advantage of, as Mark Shultz so clearly is.

In the end we are left wondering, what is there to learn from this film? It is more uncomfortable than entertaining. Why is it important that this story has made it to our screens? Another millionaire gone mad with narcotics and social isolation? Is the moral of the tale simply ‘don’t make friends with lonely old rich people’ – or is it that ‘bad things happen to good people’? Either way, despite some incredible performances, like the Schultz brothers I wish I had never gone to Foxcatcher ranch.

Originally posted at Litro, October 17, 2014