Every comedian clearly has a burning desire to be seen as a “serious actor” at least once in their career: Jim Carrey had his “Truman Show”; Steve Coogan wrote himself into “Philomena”; and (whilst he has denied that he is desperate for this sort of attention) Foxcatcher is Steve Carell’s turn…. and boy does he do a good job.
Foxcatcher is not a feel-good sort of movie. It is what my wife would call a “Father Ted” film (i.e. one that you need to go home straight afterwardsand watch a DVD episode of the comedy series before bedtime). It is made all the more harrowing when you realise that it is based on a true story.
Carell stars as John DuPont, heir of the enormously wealthy DuPont family, who made their fortune in chemicals and CFCs. Growing up in a cosseted environment on the family’s Foxcatcher ranch, under the guidance of his manipulative and controlling mother (Vanessa Redgrave), DuPont strives to find ways to impress the elderly matriarch.
His latest attempt is to act as Olympic coach to the US wrestling team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. To this end he throws money at the problem ‘recruiting’ the gold-medal winning Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and trying to recruit his family-man brother and fellow gold-winner David (Mark Ruffalo). But the road to Olympic glory in this case is not easy, and the relationship between the driven but self-doubting Mark and the erratic and eccentric DuPont becomes progressively more strained.
We have seen two films in recent months that portrayed bullying justified by the goal of achieving excellence in performance: JK Thompson’s portrayal in “Whiplash” did it through old-fashioned shouting, demeaning comments and violence; Carell’s DuPont delivers it in a much darker and more odious way, eroding the souls of his victims through the vicious application of his power and position. In this sense, you could effectively position the character of John DuPont as one of cinema’s greatest villains.
Carell’s performance is excellent and his Oscar-nomination (albeit as a bit of an outsider behind Keaton and Redmayne) is well-deserved. It is a startling deviation from his previous screen persona, and (looking at archive video footage of Dupont) it is also a remarkably good impersonation of his mannerisms and delivery.
The quality of the lead though shouldn’t take away from the supporting acting of both Tatum, who gives a career-best performance as the brooding and increasingly disillusioned protégé, and of Ruffalo in the quieter and more nuanced role of his brother. Only Ruffalo has been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category, which seems something of a shame. However, the latter’s performance in a video “tribute” to Dupont is toe-curlingly embarrassing. In fact, a number of the scenes in this film fall into that category reaching its zenith in a seat-squirming demonstration of Dupont’s coaching skills in front of the unimpressed Redgrave.
Oscar-nominated direction is by Bennett Miller, best known for another well regarded ‘sports’ film “Moneyball” and the earlier “Capote” which was also Oscar nominated for direction. The tight and effective writing is by E. Max Fry and “Capote” writer Dan Futerman, and one of the impressive things about this screenplay is that it never completely fills in all of the blanks in the relationship between Mark Schulz and DuPont: some of the scenes are left deliberately vague (notably in the night-time ‘training session’ scene).
Whilst not being much into ‘sports films’ of the baseball/boxing variety, the film positions the wrestling as something of a side-line to the emotional drama. You should certainly not be put off from seeing this film because of that. It comes with my recommendation.
Fad Rating: FFFF.