13 January 2015

Foxcatcher review

Foxcatcher tells the true story of the Olympic gold-medal winning wrestlers Mike and David Schultz. Mike Schultz is a man overshadowed by his older, more recognisable and successful brother, so when the chance comes for him to make something of himself without his brothers help, he jumps at it - in this instance, the chance being the opportunity to work with John du Pont, a wealthy wrestling enthusiast who intends to put together a team to train for the World Championship known as Team Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher is a film entirely occupied with the relationships between it's three main characters, in the best possible way. You could write an entire essay on the interactions between these three, each of them clashing and reacting to one another in ways that are mostly independent of the events of the film, made all the more disturbing (and fascinating) by the fact that these three people really did exist, and this film is based on things that actually happened.

As such, the film lives or dies based on the performances of it's cast, and yes, they really are as good as you've heard. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play the Schultz brothers, each of them lost amongst the part they are playing in roles that could well elevate these already fairly highly thought of actors into new areas. You completely understand these characters and the dynamic they share because of these performances - Foxcatcher has very little dialogue, and a lot of their relationship is said through body language. You buy that these two are brothers straight away, and you instantly know what they think of each other as soon as they interact.

Steve Carell plays Du Pont in much the same way, although he has to try much harder to reach the same level of believability as his co-stars - Carell has a much stronger sense of personality as a celebrity that Tatum or Ruffalo do, and he is working to overcome that here. Despite being under a ton of make-up and prosthetics, his transformation into Du Pont is no less impressive than it otherwise would be - there is a solid performance throughout that allows you to easily forget that Carell is somewhere under there. He uses his experience of making easily unlikeable people genuinely endearing in a semi-new way - Du Pont is a pathetic human being who inspires as much disgust as he does pity, but the character never quite reaches the tipping point of pantomime villain, something that would have been easy to do considering the story being told.

This isn't director Bennett Miller's first foray into the world of sporting biopics - he also directed the excellent Moneyball in 2011. But despite the obvious, surface level similarities in topic, Foxcatcher is a very, very different film to Moneyball. The pacing of the two are similar (each of them meander in and out of the main "story" as they please in order to further emphasis various character traits), but whereas Moneyball was mostly a hopeful film about believing in something and seeing it to completion, Foxcatcher, well, isn't. Foxcatcher is a gruelling tale, the coldness of the way it was shot matching the coldness that develops between the leads, and is a film that won't have you leaving the cinema happier than when you entered it (in the best possible way).

Having said all this, it would be difficult to recommend Foxcatcher to anyone who isn't either super into films or doesn't have a good knowledge of the actual events as they transpired. I'd be interested to see how my opinion of the film differs from someone who knew about the real life event before seeing it - I went into this blind, as such there could well be an awful lot of foreshadowing that went completely over my head. That being said, watching these characters interact and seeing their relationships development over the course of a few hours was interesting and easily worth a trip to the cinema. As I said earlier, Foxcatcher is a film that lives or dies on it's performances - and Foxcatcher thrives.

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