Entertainment Movies ‘Foxcatcher’: a brilliantly twisted true tale
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‘Foxcatcher’: a brilliantly twisted true tale

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Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell
Duration: 134 mins
Rating: M – Drug use and violence
Release Date: 29 January, 2015

Based on the incredible true story of troubled millionaire philanthropist John E. du Pont and his relationship with US Olympic wrestling champions, and brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, Foxcatcher is a haunting psychological drama and a bleak statement on contemporary American society.

The film is director Bennett Miller’s third feature (after Capote and Moneyball) and here he uses his trademark slow burn approach to devastating effect – hypnotically drawing the viewer into the stately world of Foxcatcher Farm, its impressive rolling fields, and teams of lawyers and assistants, before slowly unravelling its twisted emotional core.

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Miller takes a seemingly straightforward sports drama and uses it to explore a deeper contest of values in American society, where the obsession with wealth, excess and a relentless lust for glory have overwhelmed the basic emotional equilibrium of sports (and society at large) and twisted them into a distorted psychosis.

Foxcatcher begins with Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a hulking ogre of a man and one-time Olympic wrestling gold medallist whose life has sunk to grim poverty.

Professionally, he lives in the shadow of his charismatic, successful older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), and ekes out his days in tightly repressed rage and despair.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the Schultz brothers.
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the Schultz brothers.

Unexpectedly, Mark receives an invitation to meet with du Pont (Steve Carell), heir to the E.I du Pont chemical fortune. Du Pont is a wrestling enthusiast and has built a training facility at his family’s Foxcatcher estate.

A sickly looking man with an off-putting manner, du Pont talks of using wrestling to restore America’s greatness in the world.

He invites Mark to live and train at Foxcatcher in preparation for the 1987 World Championships and eventually the 1988 Olympics. Du Pont further urges Mark to coax his brother Dave to join “Team Foxcatcher”.

Mark, hardly believing his luck, agrees, but is unable to convince Dave, and makes the journey alone.

With a new team around him and considerable financial support, Mark begins to thrive at Foxcatcher, seizing the opportunity to step out of his brother’s shadow. However, over time, du Pont’s shadowy agenda comes into focus.

Trapped by his enormous wealth, the wrestling enterprise is an attempt to win the approval of his elderly mother (whom he deeply resents) and with his alienation and weakness gradually exposed, he begins to appear increasingly preposterous in presenting himself as an American patriot and aristocrat. In one absurd running joke du Pont asks to be called “The Eagle”.

After some initial success, Mark and Du Pont eventually implode and the responsible Dave is brought on to restore team Foxcatcher’s prospects for the 1988 Olympics.

But Dave’s natural authority and integrity clash with du Pont’s impulsive, whimsical approach to his vanity project and the three men are set on a dark path that leads to a chilling conclusion.

The cast are sensational. Carell and Ruffalo both received Oscar nominations for their roles and, along with Tatum, they all disappear into their characters and into Foxcatcher’s narrative world.

Much has been made of Carell’s performance and indeed he and Tatum are revelations, showing off impressive new dimensions as actors, but it is the combination of the three lead performances and the conflict of their different personalities that allows Foxcatcher to work as a whole.

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