Friday, October 17, 2014


You can listen to a podcast review of this film here:

FOXCATCHER is an extremely slow building true crime drama, based loosely on the murder of wrestling coach Dave Schultz by the incredibly wealthy wrestling patron John E Du Pont in 1996.  The tone of the film is wintry cold - one of repressed emotion, deep insecurity and resentment set in rural isolation.

As the movie opens we meet naive and hard trodden wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum).  He's living in the shadow of his elder brother Dave, another Olympic champion, and receives little in the way of adulation or financial support. Accordingly, he's absolutely ripe to fall for John E Du Pont's sales pitch - to live and train at his palatial Foxcatcher ranch - to move out of the shadow of his brother and achieve greatness on his own terms.  But as we move into the second half hour of the film we realise that Du Pont (Steve Carrell) is not just eccentric but deeply disturbed. Utterly resentful and yet still needing the approval of his contemptuous mother (Vanessa Redgrave), Du Pont has a fantasy image of himself as mentor and guru to Mark - one that he pays to make real by creating motivational videos and fake wrestling championships. At one point he criticises his mother by buying him a childhood friend, but his whole adult life is predicated on that same corruption.

As we enter the movie's second hour the dream turns sour. Mark feels betrayed when John brings his brother Dave to ensure Olympic success and John starts to resent Dave for being an actual coach and forming a barrier between Mark and John.  It's a kind of weird obsessive love triangle except without the sex.  It all turns to ashes in the end.  A resentful Mark quits wrestling and binge eats at his lowest moment - self-sabotaging the body he uses as his instrument.  And John, always odd, becomes strangely bizarrely single-mindedly vindictive, shooting Dave in cold blood.

The movie that Bennet Miller (MONEYBALL) has created is absolutely chilling, although it requires patience to get to the high-pitched hatred at the end.  The casting is absolutely inspired.  Channing Tatum captures both the boy-scout naive patriot at the start and the resentful seething self-loathing wrestler Mark.  Mark Ruffalo just oozes decent family values, understanding and empathy as Dave.  And Steve Carrell - well, this is the performance of a lifetime - tragicomic, sinister, deeply disturbed - the tilt of the head, the whiny voice and staccato tone are just petrifying.   And yet at the same time, seeing this poor lonely weird kid still trying to impress his mother and failing so miserably (does anyone convey contempt with a glance better than Vanessa Redgrave?) is to break your heart.

My only criticism of the film is not really valid, because I firmly believe that movies don't owe a debt to the truth.  But still it was weird to me to scan the wikipedia page for the crime and to realise that while Mark quit wrestling in 1988 the murder didn't happen until 1996. So it wasn't a slow burn turned tragic snap prompted by a perceived insult at Seoul that did it.  And maybe that's not what the movie is saying either, but the short time from Seoul to the murder made me think that events had been far more compressed. Moreover, the movie is fairly opaque on how far John was really mentally ill and therefore responsible for his actions.  Was he really a paranoid schizophrenic for example?

At the end of the day, I'm not sure that tho is what the screenwriter and director are interested in. Indeed one could read this film as a straightforward critique of the evils of wealth.  It seems to corrupt and chip away at identity - so that finally a man can pay for friends to enact a fantasy - or a pro-wrestler can take cocaine.  Even the wholesome family man can be bought, and once bought is vulnerable, fatally, to the whims of his patron. Grim viewing indeed.

FOXCATCHER has a running time of 136 minutes and is rated R.  The movie played Cannes, where Bennett Miller won Best Director, Telluride, Toronto and London 2014.  It opens in India and the USA on November 14th, in Ukraine on November 20th, in Thailand on November 27th, in Portugal on December 4th, in Argentina on December 11th, in Australia, New Zealand and Sweden on December 18th, in Italy,  the UK, Ireland and Romania on January 9th, in Estonia and Norway on January 16th, in Belgium, France and Denmark on January 22nd, in Germany and Poland on January 30th, in the Netherlands on February 19th and in March 26th in the Czech Republic.

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