Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller, 2014)

I’ll admit, you really have to be a particular type of cinephile to enjoy Bennett Miller’s cinema. With Moneyball it was a lot easier for more mainstream audiences to sink into the story because it dealt with a topic which was culturally relevant. Sabermetrics had become a fascinating subject about sports, particularly baseball, and adding a Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill coupled with the “will they win/will they lose” suspense of sports dramas and a feel almost ESPN 30 for 30-esque helped the film penetrate through Miller’s deliberately paced direction to capture audience’s attention.

Foxcatcher is more like Capote, Miller’s incredible debut film. It moves at a pace which impatient viewers and modern “instant-gratification generation” jittery movie-goers could call comatose… but for those who prefer their cinema with a bit of heft and who consider patience to be a major virtue in the appreciation of storytelling, Foxcatcher is a dark and emotionally resonant marvel of a movie. The story is a true story about infamous killer John du Pont of the famous du Pont family (yes, the ones of the same fame as Du Pont Chemicals industry). A rich, anti-social person, John du Pont vies for his mother’s approval of his “success in life”… though he never accomplished anything. He starts the Foxcatcher Farms Wrestling Team, which builds young men for the Olympics. Enter Dave (older) and Mark (younger) Schulz, two gold-medal winning brothers. John du Pont finds a prodigy in Mark and treats him to luxury to win a gold medal in the Seoul Olympics. He realizes that Mark isn’t exactly a leader so he gets his older brother to train his team. John of course, acts as if he’s training and coaching everyone himself, constantly seeing if his mother is watching his antics while wasting away in the giant du Pont mansion.

The fancy chandelier in this mansion of course is Steve Carrell’s much talked about acting performance. Its a revolutionary role for him, and his transformation both physically and psychologically for the part is on full display. Carrell breaths intensity throughout the film… his long dead stares, his awkward gestures of acting as if he knows anything about wrestling (clapping and yelling nonsense acting as if he’s “coaching” the wrestlers) and his pathetic attempts at gaining favor from his disapproving mother all culminate to create one of the most vibrant and deadly performances of the year. Tatum is also brilliant as the wayward wrestler Mark Schulz who’s confused as to what he really wants. The scene where he trashes his hotel room is incredibly gutting because we realize how much wrestling means to him and his descent into a self-loathing and self-harm state after losing a match really hits you and makes you feel bad for him. Ruffallo as the older brother, Dave, is the guy caught in the middle and his ever-pleasing attitude towards everyone makes it even more of a tragic affair when you realize that he’s in a no-escape rat-hole stuck between his brother Mark’s obsession and with being the best and John du Pont’s sociopathic megalomania.

Bennett Miller’s direction is beautiful in its simplicity and its pace. A story which reliies so much on the day-by-day repition of its characters… wrestlers train in a monotonous routine, John du Pont observes and takes it in little by little… requires its direction to act in a structured methodology. What may be a small lacking in the film is that there aren’t any “wow shots” that you usually see in a Miller film (the wheat fields, the court room, the girl shot dead in her room in Capote or the Oakland A’s stadium in Moneyball), the scenery in Foxcatcher is very mundane. Perhaps that also adds a bit to the shock and awe of the films fire-cracker moments. Miller may lull you to sleep for stretches, but they are all interrupted with a loud BANG of a moment where you jump out of your seat and the story takes a dangerous shift. What works throughout Foxcatcher is the ability of every facet of the film to keep you on edge about its characters next reactions. They are all volatile beings, even Dave Schulz who continuously fights to find a place for his family to “settle” cannot seem to get any footing, and grows frustrated juggling his home life with his desperate brother and the estranged du Pont.

Foxcatcher remains a film in which patience is duly rewarded. Bennett Miller is not for everybody, but if you give him a chance, you’ll see a film which is impeccable in its structure, beautiful in its volatility and electrifying in its acting, and will give you a chance to get a glimpse of the dark and treacherous story of what exactly happened at John du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm.


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