Telling the story of the ill-fated Team Foxcatcher amateur wrestling squad, Foxcatcher is a subtle but strong film loosely based on Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Schultz’s memoir “Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold.” Focusing on Mark, his brother Dave Schultz, also an Olympic Gold Medalist, and John E. du Pont the eccentric and unhinged heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune, Foxcatcher showcases fantastic writing, slow and tense cinematography, and interesting, well developed characters without losing the audiences interest. Although the film does deviate from the events it’s based on, mostly concerning character relationships and the time frame, it doesn’t alter anything that makes the story seem unbelievable or even unlikely, and that makes the film a must watch.
Foxcatcher begins with Mark Schultz, an Olympic Gold Medal winner in freestyle wrestling, now seemingly struggling to get by. Living in a small, nearly dilapidated apartment and training with his brother Dave at a fading gym, Mark gets a call from Millionaire John E du Pont, a wrestling aficionado interested in sponsoring Mark, providing him a private training facility on his family estate, Foxcatcher Farms. Channing Tatum is brilliant as a reserved, brutish Mark, a character who struggles to interact with those around him while trying to motivate himself towards his ultimate goal of Olympic glory. Mark’s loyalties are torn between two men; His brother Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo, a father figure to him from a young age, who now has become a symbol of everything Mark isn’t, and John E du Pont, played by Steve Carell, a troubled millionaire who wants to be a leader and a mentor, whatever the cost.
Steve Carell is absolutely incredible as du Pont, with his physical transformation being almost impressive as his acting. Du Pont is an extremely complex character, who seems quite vulnerable, yet manipulative and controlling at the same time. His relationship with Mark becomes nearly parasitical, with du Pont playing upon Mark’s dreams of Olympic competition and twisting them to make himself a necessary part. Even with all his misgivings, Carell’s du Pont never becomes an unsympathetic character, and his troubled childhood and strained relationship with his mother are highlighted throughout the film.
One of the more interesting and experimental aspects of the films is it’s delayed pacing. Long pauses in between lines of dialogue and scenes that go on just a bit longer than they should enforces a very tense and uneasy tone throughout the film. At times it does slow the film down, but the films use of colour makes it interesting enough to look at, even through the slower segments of the film. The fight choreography looks great, and it’s evident that Tatum and Ruffalo spent time learning amateur wrestling. Even out of the ring, you can see them hunching forward, almost in a ready position to wrestle at any time.
I felt that to solidify the characters a bit more, it might’ve been good to include some pictures or footage of the actual people represented in the film. I’ve heard many people complain that Carell’s portrayal of du Pont was seemingly a caricature of an actual person, which is understandable with his very pronounced features and almost bird-like mannerisms, and it’s here that showing some actual footage of John du Pont probably would’ve helped the audience humanize the character. The films pacing also is a slight detraction at points, with the lack of dialogue in the third act of the film making the character motivations difficult to understand, and the shock from the final twists comes as much from confusion as it does from surprise.
Still, Foxcatcher is a wonderfully provocative film that really does explore the characters in incredible depth with well thought out writing and a fantastically uneasy tone throughout. Though the film does speed up a little too much in the third act, and the anachronisms present some conundrums for characterization, Foxcatcher is still one of the years deepest and most interesting films.