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FOXCATCHER Grappling With Issues

Foxcatcher
Foxcatcher

Directed by Bennett Miller

Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo

During the mid ’90s the heir of the du Pont fortune (and one of the largest chemical companies in the world) became embroiled in a scandal that gained national, if not international, notoriety. Foxcatcher tells the origins of this, going back a decade previous to the attempted foundation of a training camp for American Olympic wrestlers, and the strange life of the man behind this plan, John ‘Golden Eagle’ du Pont.

This remarkable tale is told through the eyes of the equally strange and misanthropic Olympic wrestler, Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum). Gold at the ’84 Olympics has not brought Mark the fame and fortune he expected. Barely scraping by, he is passed over for training positions in favour of his equally talented and more personable brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). So when he is approached by reclusive entrepreneur John du Pont (Steve Carell) with plans to build an Olympic training camp on his family estate of Foxcatcher, Mark falls quickly under his sway and is soon regarding him as a mentor, and substitute father. However, John’s mental stability is questionable, and cracks start to appear in the relationship which leads to disaster.

At its heart Foxcatcher is a study of the Great American Dream gone awry: how in an supposedly classless society, money and wealth has become synonymous with moral authority; how someone can be entirely cocooned by privilege to lack basic empathy to such a degree as to be almost as alien as lurid conspiracy theorists actually claim; how sports can be corrupted by the large amounts of capital it requires to function in the modern world, and become just another status symbol for the idle rich; how the dogged pursuit of perfection can leave just a hollow shell in its place, devoid of any other stimulation or enrichment. There is a lot to digest and contemplate in this movie and you will be ruminating on its message long after the image has faded.

Despite Tatum’s solid performance as the awkward and troubled Mark, he is put into the shade by his co-stars. Ruffalo is effortlessly charismatic as the older brother, inhabiting an easy going yet thoughtful role. By contrast Carell is almost unrecognisable in both looks and demeanour. It is a transformative performance, as hidden under some remarkably convincing make-up the comedic actor come across as almost inhuman. It is an amazing character study as he gazes out with calculating eyes, not entirely understanding the world he is in beyond his own desire for recognition. It is a performance which has placed him solidly in the running for ‘Best Actor’ at the upcoming Academy Awards.

An amazing piece of cinema layered with meaning and stunning performances. Foxcatcher will be a strong contender come Oscar time.

DAVID O’CONNELL