A tense, eerie, almost psychosexual drama about two men desperate to break free from familial legacy, Foxcatcher bears many similarities to a previous Bennett Miller effort, 2005s Capote. The relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont in Foxcatcher and Perry Smith and Truman Capote in the eponymous film is a similar dance of death and obsession. While the results yielded are similar to that of the former film, only hinting at the full potential the story holds, its nonetheless an intriguing watch, if only for the transformative performances.”
The film opens with Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, the standout) in the middle of a training session. In an empty gym, he performs a series of repetitive movements on a leather wrestling dummy – left hook, right hook, slam it on the mat. Again and again, hour after hour in the dank, silent, slightly dilapidated room. He lives a solitary life, fighting the ghost of his older brother and trainer Dave (a similarly unrecognisable Mark Ruffalo)’s Olympic glory as he tries to cut his own path, giving speeches at primary schools when his brother can’t make them, until one day he receives a mysterious phone call from a representative of John du Pont, who wants to meet him. Travelling to du Pont (an all-nose Steve Carell)’s farm in Pennsylvania, he discovers that John, the heir to the du Pont chemical fortune, is a wrestling aficionado looking to create his own team and for Foxcatcher to be official training site for the 1988 Olympics. He convinces Mark to come live and train at Foxcatcher, promising the kind of attention and recognition he’s been looking for.
Eventually, Dave is also in the mix as a trainer, recruited by John as an act of anger towards Mark, knowing it’ll damage his self-esteem. Despite this, John finds that the brothers still have a caring, trusting bond that particularly reveals itself in moment of struggle.
It’s a notion that angers and mystifies John because of his obviously cold upbringing – that, despite competition, Mark and Dave still love and trust one another. John’s upbringing is presented as the root of a lot of his behaviour – his presence with the team is angled as a father figure, he’s constantly trying to impress his mother, and has paid people to be around him, like his mother did when he was a child. It’s at these moment where the extent of du Pont’s loneliness and early childhood-rooted psychological damage are shown, that Foxcatcher is its best. Like Mark, John is shown to be constantly fighting a ghost – his family’s legacy – and trying to be successful in his own right. But what’s most interesting about this, however, is despite John’s desire to be independent of the fortune and pursue something completely different to the family business, detached from the responsibilities, he constantly is under the thumb of it, using the money to fund the team, building the gym on the grounds of the family farm.
This odd relationship with his notion of family and belonging, surrounding himself with paid friends/a team he built, gives birth to some incredibly weird and welcome humour, odd in a way that the presentation is almost akin to observing a room of taxidermied animals, dusty, twisted relics that are somehow comical in their absurdity. They are the film’s best moments, and give glimpses of how this odd story could have been fully explored. Foxcatcher‘s biggest issue is that the aim of director Miller and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman differ somewhat. Miller seems to be angling for a much more twisted film that explores du Pont’s warped behaviour and entirely bought life much more, including taking a much bolder route in regards to questions of his sexuality. If moments like where du Pont tells Mark to call him “eagle or golden eagle”, the late night visits to Mark’s cabin, the party in du Pont’s quarters were expanded upon, the result would have been a much more compelling film.
The verdict: It’s a tale as old as time – with money comes power, and the effects are often lethal, searching for authentic connections and a sense of agency. Looking at the world of wrestling with a beating-your-head-against-the-wall, lonely, enjoyment-free outlook, Foxcatcher is a, while good with great performances to boot, loses some of its power and tension through a script that only hints at its full potential, instead becoming a film in need of a tighten.