Foxcatcher review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
There are two types of wrestling in Foxcatcher. There’s the actual sport and then the more psychological. The characters are seen struggling through their feelings buried so deep behind their dumbfounded faces of gaping mouths and glazed eyes. It’s a movie that attempts to find something more behind a strange tale of sports training that pushes men to their very limits of their physical and emotional states. And once they boil too long, the explosion is both horrific and tragic.
This true crime movie follows the lives of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), his Olympic wrestling brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and rich wrestling enthusiast John E. du Pont (Steve Carell). The three converge at John’s estate to form Team Foxcatcher, a wrestling team he assembles for the Olympics. All of them are at different stages in their career. Despite winning the gold medal prior to meeting John, Mark is very quiet and easily frustrated with where he wants to go in life. He wants to be the absolute best and nothing less. Failure is the ultimate destruction which results in self-inflicted destruction. He fails a match punches himself multiple times in the face before smashing his head into a mirror. Nothing else in life matters besides wrestling. But for his brother of similar fame, it doesn’t hold as heavy a spot. Dave has a family and is quite happy to turn down John’s offer for a comfy lifestyle. He is the rock of a coach needed to hold Team Foxcatcher and Mark together.
On the other end of the spectrum is John, the most quiet and damaged of the three. He has all this wealth, land and sports acclaim, but is never truly happy. His disapproving mother looks down on his interest in wrestling as a lesser sport that breathes with homosexual tones. She never directly states this and John never admits to anything either, but it’s there. John’s anger is very silent, hidden behind his mute face and docile tone. He is by no means a stable man and that’s part of what draws Mark towards him in the first place. They see something in each other, despite coming to blows over Mark’s determination.
There are drugs involved and there’s a fall from grace, but it never feels overdone. There’s a strict focus on the characters and their coldness with being shut off from the world around them. Most of the film takes place at John’s estate packed with old paintings in large empty rooms. The wrestling scenes - for as many as there could have been covering the World Wrestling Championship and Summer Olympics - are tightly shot and minimal. We never hold on these moments for too long because the focus is not the grand spectacle of the event. Mark and Dave have both been to the Olympics before and are aware of the process - the movie doesn’t waste time making their Team Foxcatcher matches overblown. In fact, these scenes could have been removed from the movie and it would still be completely engaging.
The biggest showcase of the picture is Steve Carell. He melts into the role of John du Pont with a fragile and creepy performance that never oversteps its bounds. That’s not to say that Tatum of Ruffalo do a bad job either, but they’re mostly playing to their true strengths and talents for these roles. Carell is venturing far outside his comfort zone from the usual loud persona he brings to other pictures. When he isn’t mumbling with his glazed expression, he’s staring blankly while deep in thought and anxiety hidden away by his nearly comatic state. You know he’s going to snap at some point, but such an exterior makes it a mystery as to when his frustrations will takeover.
Foxcatcher is a subtly intoxicating examination of the big blows dealt to the men of wrestling. The sacrifice of mind and body has never been more deep and tragic as portrayed by the silent giant Tatum and the silent villain Carell. For as long as the movie plays out, it rarely felt as though a scene were wasted, but still takes just enough time to create a mood and an atmosphere. From the cold mornings of jogging around the du Pont estate to the uncomfortable silence of John’s trophy room, all of it feels worthy of attention. It’s so effective in taking a critical eye to this fascinating crime aspect of Olympic wrestling that even Mark Schultz himself admitted the film was a miracle. He previously thought it was going too far for establishing homosexual undertones, but the tones were subtle and honest that it’s more a determination of the viewer than pushed by the director.