By Muhammad Muzammal
Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” works best as a mood piece that’s depressing and tragic. These two attributes not only elevate the movie, but also weigh it down to the point where the film feels simultaneously powerful and suffocating. With its themes on greed and power, the film clearly has something say about American Exceptionalism, but ultimately feels empty.
Based on a true story in the late 1980s, “Foxcatcher” chronicles the relationship between Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and wealthy businessman John du Pont (an aptly frightening Steve Carrell). This creates an unlikely tandem formed by Mark’s inclination to not be under the shadow of his older, more revered brother Dave Schultz (a paternal Mark Ruffalo) and the persuasion of du Pont, a materialistic, type A personality.
Du Pont’s inherited estate is the titular “Foxcatcher,” the same name of the wrestling team he horribly, unreasonably coaches. Mark joins as one of the first wrestlers on the team, and the movie become a push-pull conflict for Mark, who is caught between the simple loving life that his big brother Dave offers him and the rich, isolated world of the creepy, psychopathic du Pont.
Although technically historical, “Foxcatcher” is not as much a time capsule of Midwest America in the 1980s, as it is an atmospheric work that builds to a climax that is as engrossing as it is silently tense. One of the film’s target issues is that in retrospect, the movie depends too much on this one act and not enough on the heart of the movie.
In showing the brotherly, intimate love that the Schultz brothers have for each other (counteracted by du Pont’s far more questionable physicality with Mark), Miller breaks the notion about movie men keeping a rough exterior and not being able to cry, hold or touch each other. The wrestling thus becomes more than mere entertainment; it’s a way of expressing the true tension that lies beneath the heavily sub-textual dialogue.
And that’s where the movie’s core center lies, but it’s limited and therefore, so is the film’s thematic vision. The drab, grey mood is relentlessly bleak and doesn’t feel sustainable enough to sit through.
This is a tedious film that features career best performances from its main leads. Tatum, who has recently been taking better roles, plays Mark Schultz as a naive, sensitive hulk, walking in an ape like manner. Tatum mirrors Ruffalo, who plays Dave Schultz as a responsible, loving and affectionate surrogate father to Mark.
Covered in heavy prosthetic makeup, Steve Carrell plays John du Pont with an uncomfortable moodiness that reflects du Pont’s controlling, domineering personality. Carrell, known to play delusional characters such as Michael Scott from “The Office,” has a brilliant performance that is as watchable as it is unwatchable.
There’s a scene where du Pont wrestles with Mark in the middle of the night, waking the latter up and freely feeling Schultz’s built, athletic body during the practice session. The homoerotic feeling that Miller and Carrell give du Pont is shown here as well as du Pont’s power-tripping personality, both key in understanding the mental complications of du Pont.
“Foxcatcher” is a well-crafted, extremely restrained movie that can, to a stretch, be taken as a black comedy or a mournful journey that ends in tragedy, not triumph. As soon as the last frame ends, we are left with pain, grief and shock, but is there anything deeper than the surface?