Directed by: Bennett Miller
Earlier this year it was recommended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that wrestling should be dropped from the Olympic schedule by 2020. When I heard this news I thought about how much American collegiate wrestling would be affected. The pinnacle for a collegiate wrestler lies beyond divisional and world championships, and arguably what matters most is success at the Olympic Games. It is the brass ring that all young wrestlers strive for, the key thing in most coach’s motivational speeches, the reason for 6am morning runs, and breaking through the pain of evening training sessions. The IOC decision could mean that wrestling ends as nothing more than a high school rite of passage, and that to the detriment of the sport young American wrestlers will gravitate to other sports.
At the beginning of ‘Foxcatcher’ Mark Schultz is struggling to make ends meet. He’s a champion wrestler, but struggles by on a diet of ramen noodles. Mark picks up extra money by giving speeches at elementary schools for twenty dollars, showing off his prized Olympic gold medal. Back then there was no UFC or WWE, lucrative money making opportunities were few and far between for champion wrestlers. Fast forward to the end of the film and he’s still struggling, he decides to fight in a MMA contest, this was during the early days of the UFC, before PPVs, the Reebok sponsorship deals and FOX TV coverage. Before the chance to make any decent money.
Perhaps there’s never been much money in wrestling. But it is a unique sport where hard work and sacrifice paves the way for something that goes beyond the sport itself. For many years it is almost a proving ground. A test of what it is to be a man. This is epitomized by the personal philosophy of the founder of the wrestling team at Foxcatcher farm.
Based on a true story ‘Foxcatcher’ stars Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, Mark Ruffalo as his older brother Dave and Steve Carell in a career defining role as the enigmatic multi-millionaire John Eleuthere du Pont. Down and desperate Mark Schultz is contacted by du Pont and offered the opportunity to lead a wrestling team to glory in the World Championships and Olympic Games. Du pont also wants Mark’s brother Dave on board, but initially Dave turns down du Pont, preferring to stay where he lives because his family are settled.
John du Pont is a privileged member of a family dynasty, and given that he has had everything handed to him, he vicariously tries to buy friendship and sporting success. The film captures the bizarreness of the relationship between du Pont and his young male wrestling team. There is a faint hint of something sexual, but mostly du Pont is presented as a damaged man in pursuit of greatness, someone that hopes to contribute to the illustrious du Pont family history.
Carrell’s performance is reminiscent to the late Robin Williams’ darkly dramatic turn in ‘One Hour Photo’. Carell distances himself from his previous comedic output, and though he’s shown some welcome depth in films like ‘Little Miss Sunshine’, as du Pont he really does surprise you. There’s more than the prosthetic nose, Carell is distant and cold as du Pont. Perfectly playing a man who was likely fighting battles with the demons in his head; there’s also something wonderful about Carell’s awkwardness, showing how du Pont is profoundly uncomfortable around people. The sign of a lonely isolated figure. As du Pont reveals during the film, throughout his life he hardly had any friends.
Channing Tatum also excels. When looking over his career it is evident that Tatum knows his limitations, he can’t go method, or beyond his acting capabilities, so he stays in his comfort zone, and this isn’t a criticism, more a complement, in that he plays to his strengths when playing the simple kind of American man. I think there’s some parallels in ‘Foxcatcher’ to his performance in as the battle scarred soldier in ‘Dear John’.
The most notable thing about ‘Foxcatcher’ is the absence of women. ‘Foxcatcher’ is a man’s movie, Vanessa Redgrave exists on the periphery as du Pont’s frail and sickly Mother and Sienna Miller floats about in the distance as Dave Schultz’s wife. But neither really gets any screen time. This perhaps reflects the culture behind wrestling, a sport which though some females compete in, is mostly a male pursuit.
Director Bennett Miller continues his spellbinding run of retelling real life events, following on from ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’, with another film full of toil and rigour. ‘Foxcatcher’ is a story of troubled but deeply focussed men who are hell bent on climbing the mountain and achieving glory. The cost of this is everything.