Rated – R
Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
This review contains some spoilers.
What is it to be patriotic? What is the American Dream? Where does one draw the line between winning and losing? How far will you go to prove something to yourself or to someone else? In Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller explores the true story of three men who challenge themselves to find the answer to these questions.
Mark Schultz (Tatum) is an Olympic gold medalist for wrestling, but you wouldn’t think it seeing the way he speaks, the way he acts and the way he lives. He’s not charismatic or social and he eats instant noodles with hot sauce for dinner. In many people’s eyes, he’s successful for winning an Olympic gold medal, but if you were to take away that medal, he’s far from being seen as a success. And the one thing that remains behind everything that he has won is that he’s living in his older brother’s shadow.
Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) is also an Olympic gold medalist for wrestling and in contrast with his brother, he’s a personable, likeable wrestler who loves his family, Mark included. Most importantly, he actually seems happy with a healthy family and worldwide accomplishments for his hard work. Is this something that Mark envies? Possibly, but Mark keeps everything inside that strong, bull-like exterior.
Their lives will change forever after John E. du Pont (Carrel) enters. Being a wrestling fan, the millionaire takes a particular interest in the Schultz brothers and offers them an opportunity to train at his world-class facility, live at his Pennsylvania estate, and create and control their own wrestling squad preparing for the Olympics. Mark signs up, but Dave stays behind unwilling to uproot his family. This becomes the start of a strange and intense friendship between Mark and John.
Foxcatcher is full of dark and depressing tones and images. Starting with the gym where the Schultz brothers train, it’s grimy and in poor shape. You would think the United States would take care of their Olympic trainees a bit more, but there isn’t much glamour in wrestling. Du Pont understands that and even talks about the Battle of Gettysburg when discussing with Mark what America owes the men who sacrifice everything for their country. Needless to say, Mark is smitten.
The film is centered around these three men and how it will inevitably lead to the tragic events that took the nation by surprise. But in the film, Miller shows us the intimate relationships, the longing for approval, and the crossed boundaries between damaged men pushing themselves and each other to the limit. In a sports sense, all of this is traditional, but Foxcatcher isn’t your feel-good underdog story. It contains a grim mood throughout as we peak inside the underwhelming life of an Olympic gold medalist and the temptations when he sees the wealth and power of a dangerous man.
This isn’t an easy movie to watch. In fact, there are many moments that feel too talky and too drawn out. It’s a very slow-burn leading up to that moment when you know du Pont will snap. But it’s a worthwhile film nonetheless due to the incredible acting performance by the trio of Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Miller always gets the best out of his actors and Foxcatcher just adds to it. These actors simply lose themselves in their roles and as a result, we forget that they’re just actors on a screen. That’s when you know you’re watching something special.