“Foxcatcher” is the latest biographical drama from director Bennett Miller and writer Dan Futterman. It sports the unlikely cast of Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell. The three are so invested in their unusually human roles that even if the film around them was not so impressive, their performances alone would warrant seeing it in theaters.
The film documents the manipulative relationship between billionaire John du Pont and the Schultz brothers, Olympic gold medalists in freestyle wrestling. Du Pont wishes to fund and oversee the training of the pair, among others, at Foxcatcher Farms as part of his mission to restore America’s pride at a time when heroic role models are “lacking.”
The subtle and unspoken nature of the true motives of the protagonists’ actions is what makes the film such a somber masterpiece. An opening scene features the brothers running drills against one another. Wordlessly the film conveys the complex relationship between the two. Mark becomes frustrated by his repeated failings to the point of bloodying his brother’s nose. Dave doesn’t retaliate and allows him to vent his anger.
The film’s dynamic relationships and minimalist dialogue could have been completely undermined by lackluster performances, but thankfully the film’s cast delivers far beyond expectation. Channing Tatum’s portrayal of Mark Schultz as an ignorant warrior, adopting an apelike gait and incessantly childish expression, contrasts nicely with Ruffalo’s down-to-earth portrayal of his elder brother who is often the film’s singular voice of reason.
Du Pont himself, although he asks to be called “eagle,” is vulture-like in both appearance and behavior, depending on his dying mother’s wealth to support his activities and exploiting the naive Mark Schultz to promote his own wishes.
Despite this, one of the greatest achievements of “Foxcatcher” is that Du Pont remains a sympathetic character throughout the film. That an actor was capable of portraying such tragic depth is impressive. That it was Steve Carell, a man commonly known for little more than slapstick comedies, is outstanding.
The cinematography is often bleak, the colors a stark contrast between the vibrant golds, reds, whites and blues of American Olympic pride and the dull grays of Foxcatcher Farms. The film benefits greatly from its titular setting, an antiquated estate frequented by police, military personnel, servants and assistants, and home to, fittingly enough, both John du Pont’s team of wrestlers and his mother’s captive racehorses.
The soundtrack is well-balanced, accentuating the emotional element of the film without distracting from the dialogue or visuals.
If “Foxcatcher” has any prominent flaws, it’s less as a film and more as a biopic. Controversy erupted when the real Mark Schultz condemned director Bennett Miller for a scene he believed implied sexual abuse between Du Pont and him; Schultz has since revoked these criticisms and apologized.
Other factual details have been neglected by the film entirely, including Dave and Mark’s half-siblings. The film also never shows us the Schultz brothers in their prime, taking home gold medals from the 1984 Olympics, but this was probably a thematic choice rather than a result of time or budget limitations.
“Foxcatcher” is not a sports film. It is an impressive, respectful portrayal of tragic, twisted relationships and the people behind them.