Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is a film utterly convinced of its own greatness. So convinced, in fact, that it does not feel the need to provide a coherent narrative of the profoundly unsettling story of how two talented wrestling brothers came to be caught up in the twisted machinations of an eccentric and unstable multi-millionaire.
The story of the Schultz brothers, John du Pont and their time together between the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics through Seoul in 1988 and beyond is a fascinating and perplexing one but if you are unfamiliar with the sport of wrestling or the events at Foxcatcher Farm this film with neither educate or illuminate. The film has a sedentary, bordering on sedative pace, which forsakes the building of any tension or momentum in favour of abstruse, picturesque establishing shots and ‘meaningful’ silences. Too many scenes are non-sequiturs, and it’s a fine thing for a film to be laden with subtext but “Foxcatcher” lacks a text under which to bury the layers. It presents vignettes without developing context, creepiness without providing insight and declines to acknowledge or justify its own innuendo and deeply homoerotic undertones.
Much has been made of the central performances of Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell. Yes, the performances are transformative but in a very self-consciously showy way. Ruffalo comes closest to physically matching the real life individual he portrays and, like Tatum, there’s a distinct physicality to the performance, bringing a simmering, pseudo-Neanderthal menace to their movements and actions. Channing Tatum continues to demonstrate his versatility and with no assistance from special make up manages to deliver the most complex and nuanced performance of the whole film. As for Carell’s much-lauded turn, it is an impressively restrained performance from the famously manic and rubber-faced actor however just because a comedian puts on prosthetics and doesn’t crack any jokes doesn’t automatically make it an amazing performance. A notable performance against type, certainly, but Oscar-worthy? I’m not so sure.
That the Schultz brothers were well-meaning and decent people who ended up as victims of the ego-centric, spoiled and psychologically twisted John du Pont whose growing paranoia inevitably lead to tragedy is plain, but this film fails to say anything more than that. We emerge none the wiser as to the motivations and inner lives of any of the characters than when we began which, given the rich dramatic potential of the Du Pont dynasty and these events, feels like an anti-climax.