|Film review: Foxcatcher|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Thursday, 15 January 2015 10:03|
Director: Bennett Miller
Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. That's how John du Pont asks Mark Schultz to describe him in an awards speech. Taking the wrestler under his multi-million dollar wing, he invites Schultz into his world of status and superiority, one where such titles matter.
Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist. Schultz chews up the words as he echoes them, stumbling over the syllables. John repeats the phrase, a teacher drilling it into his pupil. The temptation is to laugh at such a bizarre class divide, but Foxcatcher stops you before you can get there, instead leaving you with a creeping sense of unease about its true story.
The majority of that comes from Steve Carell. The word "unrecognisable" may have become an all too recognisable description for his role, but the comedian delivers everything unnervingly straight. Setting his sights on winning the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul, Carell's John stares at his seduced underling over his giant, hooked nose; part Roman Abramovich, part Dracula.
Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum's champion siblings are equally mesmerising. Tatum is brutal as the everyday contender, beating himself up over losses and failures, while he tries to meet the approval of his new benefactor. He isn't just a lunkhead; he lunks. He lunks about the ring. He lunks his head into a mirror. He lunks around on the sprawling du Pont estate, standing out against the opulence around him. Ruffalo, meanwhile, is generous to a fault, playing his kind-hearted brother with an understated air that gives Channing a chance to shine.
We first see them together in a practice session, grappling each other silently on the floor. Even without them saying a word, we learn everything we need to about their relationship, from David's loyalty to Mark's frustration at being in his older brother's shadow. They couldn't be more different to Carell's investor. Where they move fluidly together, he is awkward; where they come from average homes, he fills his halls with trophies and stuffed animals; where they have each other, he has his disapproving mother (a brilliantly cold Vanessa Redgrave).
The shifting dynamics of this unnatural trio becomes fascinating to observe - an examination of sports becoming corrupted by wealth and status. "You're a friend," he tells Mark, after he calls him Mr. du Pont. "My friends call me Eagle." Then he recruits David for a documentary about himself, ordering him to talk about how influential he is as a mentor.
The less things are played for humour, the scarier they become. How much of du Pont's actions are driven simply by a desire to have the brothers' intimacy, be it physical or emotional? Writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman hint at several factors behind his and Mark's bond, while Schultz seems equally keen to have a father figure, but there are no answers explicitly offered - even as things end in an unexpected final act.
Throughout, director Bennett Miller captures everything with a detached air reminiscent of his earlier Capote, letting events unfold slowly with no signposts or psychological insight. That clinical approach will leave many feeling uninvolved, but the lack of engagement only adds to the troubling nature of du Pont's behavour; weeks later, you'll still be haunted by it, puzzling over what happened. Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.