It’s true what they say: money can’t buy you happiness or love, and it certainly cannot buy anyone talent. It is, as has so often been noted, the root of all evil and Steve Carrell’s miserable but wickedly wealthy wacko in Foxcatcher proves it perfectly.
Foxcatcher is the story of Olympic champion wrestlers, brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schulz (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is the younger brother who won a gold medal at the ‘84 Olympics while Dave is the smarter of the pair, a loving family man who coaches his brother with care and passion. The blue-collar brothers are an inseparable team until the magnificently wealthy John Du Pont (Steve Carrell) sends an envoy out to collect Mark and fly him first class out to Du Pont’s beautiful Pennsylvania country house. Foxcatcher Farm is a mansion that would dazzle most but is particularly impressive to working class Mark, and a tour reveals the place is filled with race horses, trophies and Du Pont’s snooty mother (Vanessa Redgrave).
Du Pont is a sickeningly rich, sad little spoiled man-child. Patriotic, lonely and demanding, he manages to charm Mark (mostly with offers of money) and lures him out to live and train in a beautiful training facility on the grounds. Du Pont’s mother does not approve of wrestling and though her son is desperate for her to acknowledge his passion, commitment and talent, it is clear Du Pont is simply throwing money around in order to fuel his own ego and pride. He funds the American national wrestling team in the run up to the ‘88 Seoul Olympics in the hope of some of that gold rubbing off on him in the eyes of his unimpressed mother, but also out of a strangely philanthropic sense of national pride.
Mark moves to Foxcatcher but his brother Dave resists because he is hesitant to shift his happy family around the country. While Mark is the gold medal winner, Dave is smarter, more capable and an essential part of Mark’s success. With Mark keen to step out from the shadow of his brother, and DuPont realising the importance of luring Dave, the three men are about to come into a tragic conflict.
Foxcatcher is a true life tragedy that gifts its central performers with real characters that are an actor’s dream. The central trio of Tatum, Ruffalo and Carrell are superb with the former funny man on particularly fine form and almost completely resisting the urge to turn Du Pont into a caricature. Carrell dials down anything that could make Du Pont too amusing, though there are a couple of awkward moments that raise a laugh (check out his brilliant nickname he asks to be called by Mark) and instead becomes a highly unsympathetic but sadly understandable monster that is the dark heart of the story. Carrell will get all the plaudits due to his impressive physical transformation that is completely lacking in vanity but Tatum and Ruffalo also deserve their fair share of praise. Ruffalo is typically good as the loving family man but both him and Tatum have an incredible physical presence in the film also. Their body language and movement is instantly distinctive but seems to come from a place of years of practice wrestling in the gym.
Director Bennett Miller follows Moneyball and Capote with another fascinating true story filled with attention grabbing performances. Like Moneyball, the idea of money not being necessary for great sporting achievement is revisited but instead of the charismatic Brad Pitt figure, Carrell steals the film as a sad, pathetic, insecure little man who believes money can stop anyone saying no to him.
For those who do not know the real story behind the film, try to avoid spoilers as the ending will likely be a huge shock. For everyone else, the real surprise here is Carrell whose performance as a man a million miles from normal will likely be a strong contender come award season. Catch it.
Foxcatcher is playing at the BFI London Film Festival at the following times:
Oct 16th 7.15pm Odeon Leicester Square
Oct 17th 12.00pm Odeon West End Screen 2
Tickets on sale from 18th September.