Foxcatcher review

Brothers in armlocks

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“I am giving America hope,” Steve Carell’s slippery, deranged millionaire John du Pont announces. It’s a moment that nutshells the self-delusion and desperate scramble for significance that lie at the dark heart of Bennett Miller’s brooding true-crime drama.

Channing Tatum plays the physically imposing but emotionally fragile Mark Schultz, a wrestling champion who lives in the shadow of his equally successful, more charismatic brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). When du Pont offers to bankroll him and the national wrestling team all the way to the 1988 Olympics, offering Mark both a shot at fame and a father figure, saying yes is a no-brainer. But there are psychological strings attached, and it’s this twisted struggle between du Pont and the brothers that gives Foxcatcher its central thrust.

The film plays like the negative image of a mentor story: Mark is whisked away to du Pont’s farmhouse to train and gradually unravels under a form of abuse that is all the more disturbing for its ambiguity. At first glance, what Tatum is doing looks no different from previous lunks he’s played. But the lumbering simplicity is deceptive: Mark is tortured, uncomfortable in his own skin, and steeped in a self-loathing that abates only under Dave’s influence.

Carell’s transformative turn is an awards-season talking point with good reason. His blank gaze, stiff gait and disjointed speech add up to something both tragic and repugnant. Du Pont calls himself many things except what he really is – a talentless shadow-dweller buying his way into the light.

As compellingly different as Carell is, there are shades of The Office’s cringe-comedy as du Pont attempts to coach his bewildered team. Meanwhile Dave, played with tenderness by Ruffalo, works to undo the psychological havoc he’s wreaking.

As mesmerising as all three leads are, the real star is Miller and his unfaltering hand. His films are characterised by a certain remove: they’re stately, controlled, and even chilly, but packed with moments of emotion. The brothers’ wrestling holds and desperate hugs are more or less interchangeable, and there is none of the macho posturing you expect; only a potent intimacy that lays the groundwork for a gut-wrenching final twist.

Deliberately paced but utterly gripping, Foxcatcher has the feeling of a cord being gradually tightened. As the endgame approaches, the sense of dread overwhelms.

VERDICT: A hypnotically disturbing triumph for Miller and his cast. Bruisingly intimate and psychologically nuanced, its spiral into savagery lingers like a bad dream.

More info

Theatrical release9 January 2014
DirectorBennett Miller
Starring"Steve Carell","Channing Tatum","Mark Ruffalo","Sienna Miller","Vanessa Redgrave"
Available platformsMovie

Emma Didbin is a writer and journalist who has contributed to GamesRadar+, The New York Times, Elle, Esquire, The Hollywood Reporter, Vulture, and more. Emma can currently be found in Los Angeles where she is pursuing a career in TV writing. Emma has also penned two novels, and somehow finds the time to write scripts for Parcast – the Spotify-owned network that creates thrilling true crime and mystery podcasts.