“Look at the camera and speak about John as a mentor.”
“And say what exactly?”
The first scene in which we see the Schultz brothers, Mark and Dave (Ruffalo and Tatum), together, is a wonderful exchange. The brothers warm each other up and begin to practice their technique. The scene is shot with minimal dialogue, none at all when they begin wrestling, and is reminiscent of two bears jostling in the wild. The brothers begin pawing at each other, feeling the other out, before the claws are drawn. The younger Mark gets frustrated in the early jostling and begins to attack, swiping at his brother with aggressive force, as a bear would to defeat his rival. Blood is shed, and still no words are spoken as the brothers battle for dominance.
This early interaction is nothing short of breath-taking. It shows Miller’s slow, methodical style and how he chose to let action and significance tell much of the story, rather than through direct dialogue. Foxcatcher is not a fast-paced thriller, the slow, oozing tension that Miller chose to attain worked masterfully. His style was effective, giving the film a tangible power that radiated throughout the picture. The film dripped with power, from the looks du Pont (Carell) would shoot to the intangible air of power he had over all those around him, you were constantly overwhelmed. The film was rarely loud and never brash; Foxcatcher never chose to bully you into submission. The subtle power that it held over you was enough to keep you down, totally receptive to the story Miller chose to tell.
On top of the superb film-making and the disturbing story, Foxcatcher is a film of exceptional individuals. Carrell is tremendous as the unstable, entitled John du Pont, and is surely a shoe-in for his first Oscar nom. His portrayal of the descendant of America’s wealthiest family is terrifyingly influential, and at times truly chilling. The prosthetic work done to the three central actors is as good as I’ve ever seen, and specifically transforms Carell into a man, jarring to look at, and uneasy to watch.
Not only is this Carell’s career-defining performance, it is also Channing Tatum’s. Easily, Tatum’s finest performance to date, Channing shows that he is a real talent, and much more that Johan Hill’s buddy-cop sidekick. His performance is raw, emotional and mature. You feel his character’s inner struggle and division, and empathise with him. These reactions should be credited to his excellent performance, and the marvellous direction. Ruffalo also does remarkably well with what he is given, but is simply overshadowed by his two exceptional counterparts.
One slight criticism I had was that the film played on the common misconception of the pseudo-sexual nature of competitive wrestling. The film was vague in its interpretation of the relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont, with great effect, but overplayed the mixed sexual messages between the two men. The sexual elements were highlighted a little strongly, and seemed to be rather unneeded. The ‘surrogate son’ feel of the relationship was twisted and potent enough to have carried the tension alone.
However, this is a moot point in the circumstances. Foxcatcher does so many things well, from its slow pace and its character arcs to the sharp, striking visuals. Three superb performances from the central characters are seized upon by film-making of the highest quality, making Foxcatcher a near-perfect experience.
Foxcatcher is a dominating and completely powerful film.