Review: Foxcatcher

Astonishing performances from Steve Carell and Channing Tatum make this a true contender

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum

Film Title: Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller

Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 130 min

Mon, May 19, 2014, 17:10

   

Bennett Miller has been creeping up on us over the past few years. For Capote, he placed elegant packaging around a transcendent performance. Moneyball made an interesting film from impenetrable material. Now the director really hits his stride with a stunning portrayal of psychopathy and moral decadence in the unlikely environment of Olympic wrestling.

Steve Carell gives (to put it mildly) a career-best performance as John du Pont, heir to the titular chemical fortune, who bought himself a place as head coach of the US team and then went violently bananas, with tragic circumstances. A contained, tortured Channing Tatum, playing gold-medal winner Mark Schultz, offers one more raised finger to those who still think of him as decorative beefcake. To general astonishment, the film has slipped into the leading pack in the race for top prizes at Cannes.

The picture begins with Schultz and his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) practising in a dingy hall with threadbare equipment. Out of nowhere, the monotonic du Pont, who imagines himself a wrestling expert, pops up and offers both men a generous salary, facilities in his personal gym and, less appetisingly, an opportunity to pump up his already overinflated ego. The more grounded, less insecure David initially resists, but eventually the brothers find themselves living uneasily on Du Pont’s vast Foxcatcher estate.

Miller imposes a weighty solemnity on dialogue and action. The actors murmur their lines and wait an eternity for a response. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is muted and soupy throughout. These are risky strategies. Given that the explosion of violence does not occur until the closing 10 minutes, the overwhelming gloom could easily have become oppressive. Happily, the slow build of the story proves hypnotic and the excellent lead performances maintain interest throughout.

Virtually unrecognisable behind an effective prosthetic nose, Carell creates a latter-day Nero of John du Pont. Raised to assume the word “no” is not uttered in his presence, he slumps about the set like a well-educated sloth in a custom-made tracksuit. So absurd are his delusions and demands – he sponsors a senior wrestling tournament and essentially purchases top prize – that the actor is to be doubly commended for resisting the temptation to play up the potentially comic turns. We are left with a very modern tragedy that says profound things about the corrupting power of ancient wealth. A welcome surprise.

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