10 years in the making

Foxcatcher 2015 | www.arthousecrouchend.co.uk

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is a film about wrestling, but this is no conventional sports tale about the triumph of hard work and determination over adversity, or even a vehicle for another version of the American Dream. Instead, it’s a deeply troubling psychological drama that shows just how fragile that dream is when met with the privileges of inherited wealth and class.
Based on true events, the film tells the story of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), winner of a wrestling gold medal in the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. It starts three years after the Olympic victory, with Mark living aimlessly, alone and poor in some run-down neighbourhood in America. Also isolated and alone but surrounded by the symbols of aristocratic money, power and connections is John Eleuthère du Pont, a member of the gunpowder dynasty, played by an unrecognisable Steve Carrell. He harbours delusions of training an Olympic wrestling team and persuades Mark to join him to set up a training centre on his vast Pennsylvania estate.
The powerfully-built wrestler is disturbingly vulnerable in the grand mansion, as awkwardly and uncomfortably he begins a journey from strong man to a rich man’s plaything. Despite all his money and influence, du Pont cuts a ridiculous, feeble figure in sports gear, directing training sessions, staging a competition designed for him to win, and creepily appearing out of nowhere to deliver patriotic speeches. Because money and power are confused with moral authority he’s able to maintain the pretence with those around him, but the effect is menacing.
There are glimpses into a background of a lonely childhood and a strained relationship with his mother, played imperiously in a brilliant cameo by Vanessa Redgrave. He launches an outburst against the equestrian sport of aristocrats that she favours, but he also makes pathetic attempts to impress her. She has nothing but disdain for his low class sport and the physical contact it involves. Look out for the wrestling encounter between Mark and his brother (also a wrestling Olympic gold medalist) early in the film, which looks like some bizarre mating ritual.
As it turns out, Mark isn’t the fox, more the unwitting hound to lure his older brother Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo, to join the team. The film is slow-paced, with little dialogue and a subdued and dark mood, but the dramatic energy comes from the intensity of the character portrayals. It’s totally absorbing and, if you don’t already know the story, the last scenes are deeply shocking. Channing Tatum is convincing as a slow-witted and inarticulate Mark, and Steve Carrell and Mark Ruffalo have each won well-deserved Oscar nominations for their performances. Steve Carrell will surprise you.