Bennett Miller returns with a dark and gripping thriller about the murder of wrestler David Schultz, by John du Pont.
The film starts in an animalistic fashion as the two brother’s played by Mark Ruffalo (David Schultz) and Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz) two Olympic gold-medalist wrestlers who entering the build up to the next Olympic games in Seoul. In the first scene Miller immediately sets up a sense of friction between the pair. The elder brother David has all the experience and knowledge, he is well liked and well linked within the wrestling world. The younger Mark, is under valued and under appreciated he lives in his brothers shadow and seeks to surpass him. Miller shows the brothers clawing, nuzzling and fending each other off like wolves jostling for position within the pack as they train together. Tatum hits Ruffalo with a head butt which gives him a nosebleed and you sense that their relationship is going to be tested.
Then enters John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell) heir to the du Pont gunpowder dynasty, a wealthy patriot who lures the younger brother Mark, and later David into his ‘Foxcatcher’ programme, a privately owned wrestling facility. Carrell shuffles onto the screen as this cold, strange and unknowable character. From his very first scene Miller lingers the camera on his face as he fumbles mid sentence and talks eerily of an America he can be proud of.
Carell gives a powerful performance that is so far from his comfort zone that he has pushed himself to new limits. Underneath the protruding prosthetic nose he speaks with an uneven and ominous tone, which I still can’t get out of my head. Miller seems to have a knack of getting transformative performances out of comic actors, just as he did with Jonah Hill as Peter Brand in Moneyball. This will definitely ensure Carell more dramatic work in the future if he wishes to pursue it.
Like all of Miller’s films there is a layer of criticism built into it, this time the subtle undertones of this film point out the inner workings of America and how people with inherited wealth from families that helped shaped a nation, can be given absurd prominence in society. In one scene we see du Pont ordering military officials to mount a 50 calibre machine gun on top of a military grade vehicle, before he returns to his manor house to do lines of cocaine with his latest fad, in this case Mark Schultz.
Du Pont creates a playground for Mark Schultz to form his own identity in, but the price Mark pays for this is that du Pont has no interest in his success, but only creating his own history. He is obsessed in creating a new legend for the family name, he sees wrestling and winning gold medals as a way of getting away from his Mother’s horse racing success. But du Pont uses Mark like a plaything; they do cocaine together, he gets Mark to make speeches about how he is a ‘father figure’ and he gets Mark to teach him wrestling, all of which he takes a dark sadistic pleasure from. After his Mother tells him that ‘wrestling is a low sport, and I hate to see you being low,’ du Pont tosses Mark aside like a rag doll and buys his brother David to head up the wrestling team instead.
Contrary to recent comments on the homoerotic nature of the relationship portrayed by Miller, I did not find this to be the focus of the film. There aren’t any overtly sexual implications about the pairs relationship, but I think that Miller is underlining du Pont’s own obsession with power and he exercises it over Mark by forcing him to be a plaything. Of course this could be interpreted as sexual during the scenes were du Pont forces him to teach him wrestling, but I felt that Miller was trying more to underline that du Pont is using Mark to feed his hunger for power.
As the film concludes with its horrific final chapter, you get a sense that this is a film about modern America, its excessive need for wealth and acknowledgement. Miller is an intelligent filmmaker who creates meaty and powerful films and it is no different with Foxcatcher. It certainly takes a more sinister approach than his previous work but this time it chillingly lingers in the mind for days after.
By Will Harper.