REVIEW: Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher film

‘We both won golds.’

A defensive and paranoid Mark Schultz declares as his measly ‘twenty dollars and zero cents’ cheque is written after finishing his speech on patriotism and the virtues of winning to a gathering of uninterested junior school students, the very speech that was originally to be made by his older brother and all-round American champion David Schultz. Mark spouts off this self-protective and routine phrase before driving home to his monotonous and forlorn existence but not before stopping off at a fast food joint. He stands amongst the handful of other ordinary blue-collar workers as he waits for his burger and fries. He appears to be one of them, seemingly camouflaged in their scruffy, inexpensive clothing and programmed everyday lives. However, he isn’t one them, this is a man destined for greatness, destined to make America ‘great’ again. He just needs someone to notice him for whom he really is.

Now, with a film titled ‘Foxcatcher’, starring the likes of the constantly wacky Steve Carrell (The Office) and the jock-like ‘hunkiness’ of Channing Tatum (22 Jump Street) you may have expected this to be nothing more than your run-of-the-mill comedy caper about two animal pound employees losing a precious yet pesky auburn coloured omnivorous mammal. However, while that sounds entertaining and hysterical, Foxcatcher is a story of ambition, paranoia, loyalty, patriotism, betrayal and power. An uncompromising true tale of blood, sweat and tears.

Foxcatcher follows gold medallist Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) as he is invited to the home of eccentric and unpredictable multimillionaire John du Pont (Carrell) and is asked to help put together a wrestling team ready for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul under the team name ‘Foxcatcher’. Initially seeing similar ideals in Du Pont and wanting to finally step out of his older brother’s shadow, Mark agrees. However, things eventually turn sour when David is brought into the mix and Mark’s relationship with not only with his brother is put into turmoil but also with his surrogate father figure. Du Pont’s actions lead all three down a dark road of angst, chaos and despair.

‘A coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on an athlete’s life’. The deluded words of John du Pont as he films a documentary he is producing on himself about the objectives and ambitions of Team Foxcatcher and his supposed ‘coaching’ techniques. While the words he utters may be true, they are not true of him. He takes the accomplishments and talents of his wrestlers and ‘assistant’ coaches and attributes them all to himself. Like Mark, this is a man who is desperate to get out of someone’s shadow: his mother’s.


The two men are yearning for recognition, validation and success. Foxcatcher is not a film about wrestling. This is a film about men and the power between them, the power they hold and the power that is held over them. It takes an unyielding and merciless look at the ever-widening class divide. The hardworking blue-collar brothers of Mark and the even more reluctant Dave are pulled in tooth and nail to Du Pont’s spoilt and privileged fantasyland. ‘You can’t buy Dave’, a naïve Mark responds to John, early in the film, when asked why David doesn’t want to be apart of this monumental feat they are undergoing. However, it becomes brutally and bitterly blatant through the course of the film that anybody can be ‘bought’.

The upsettingly tragic true tale of wrestler Mark Schultz and John Du Pont may be more well known by our friends across the pond but I implore you to not go Googling or Ask Jeeves-ing (if that’s still a thing) about the real events until you’ve seen this remarkable cinematic venture. Let director Bennett Miller lure you into this bleak, uncomfortable and eerie world. Let him take you through this tumultuous, touching and striking story of supremacy, friendship, family and strength of will.

Foxcatcher marks a hat trick for Miller, whose two other fantastic films ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’ were not only true wonder strokes in their own rights but wielded career defining performances from all of it’s leads. Miller approaches this piece with vigour and control. There is so much confidence and risk in the way this was made. It is a very cold, uninviting and uneasy film to watch. It’s not about what’s said, it’s about what isn’t said. Miller takes the saying ‘a picture says a thousands words’ to brave new heights. It could very well have been a completely silent film and still been as powerful and moving as it was with the rare dialogue it does have.


So much has been said about the performances of its leads Tatum, Carrell and Mark Ruffalo as David Schultz that I was concerned that it was going to be two hours of scenery chewing, with each actor wrestling to stand out from the crowd. However, I could not have been more wrong as all the performances are dealt with immense nuance and subtly. All three were so astonishing in their roles that there isn’t really a stand out performance. They all worked in perfect tandem with each other. Steve Carrell may have been plastered with prosthetics for his role but he was not the only one able to fully escape into his role. All three were nearly unrecognisable, each having their own unique and very specific style of movement. The way each character would walk, turn their head or even blink was engrossing and designed to tell us a different story.

Foxcatcher is a restrained and layered offering that will undoubtedly grow and improve with each sitting. I foresee it becoming like a vintage wine, improving with each year. The word masterpiece is a word that is overused in our current climate but Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is more than worthy of that prestigious title.

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