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January 7, 2015
Perhaps the most sought-after film at the latest edition of Cannes Film Festival back in May alongside Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River was Bennett Miller’s third feature film Foxcatcher. The man behind Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011) returns to familiar territory of sports and period biography with great ambition and risk.
To say the least, Miller’s choice of cast is unconventional with the likes of Channing Tatum and Steve Carrell taking the lead. What might have raised some eyebrows morphed into anticipation and excitement to find out what magic Miller might make of this real life tragedy.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is a young Olympic winning wrestler with a bright future, yet he constantly winds up overshadowed by his brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). One day, as the two siblings train together, Mark receives a phone call from John du Pont (Steve Carrell), an eclectic multi-millionaire and heir to the du Pont estate. John invites him over to his mansion and asks Mark to train under his supervision with team Foxcatcher for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
What follows is a tale of friendship, familial distress and tragedy.
Foxcatcher distinguishes itself from most sports films for its ruthless confidence and efficiently slow pace. It doesn’t make a show out of the training routines or the matches a la Rocky (1976), but instead delves deep into its main protagonists: Mark, John and Dave.
This approach is a bit reminiscent of David O. Russell’s The Fighter (2010). The film’s mission is to convey the inner thoughts and struggles of its characters, and under Miller’s direction this is accomplished wonderfully.
Easily the standout aspect of the film is the acting. Channing Tatum works magic as Mark Shultz, fully embodying the wrestling champion and his incessant insecurities. Every move he makes, from his training regimen to the modified wrestler’s posture, speaks volumes and demonstrates Tatum’s dedication to the role.
He has never been better nor has Mark Ruffalo, who’s a regular scene-stealer as the caring family man, big brother and superior wrestler. Despite Tatum’s and Ruffalo’s powerhouse performances though, Steve Carrell is the one who knocks it out of the park.
Almost unrecognisable with a prosthetic nose and a ton of make up, Carrell immerses himself into his character and turns in a terrific and terrifying performance as the psychotic John du Pont. His slow delivery, exuding narcissism and dreams of grandeur are executed perfectly. Carrell creates several layers without ever giving away too much, manipulating the audience to simultaneously sympathise with him and yet distrust him.
It’s no surprise Foxcatcher won the award for Best Director at the 67th Cannes Film Festival as it is indeed a work of art. Miller’s direction ensures top-quality cinematography, music and pacing, which is key in such a film. The screenplay by E. Mac Frye and Dan Futterman also deserves a commendation for bringing to life real life figures like Du Pont and Schultz with such vigour.
Nominated for best picture, best lead actor and best supporting actor at this Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, there’s no doubt Miller’s elegant film will be a front runner when Academy Awards nominations are announced next week.
Foxcatcher is released in UK cinemas on January 9th