Bennett Miller has a knack for focusing on characters that seemingly have it all together on the surface, but whose narcissism often expose their deep flaws. It is what makes films like Capote, and Miller’s more recent work Foxcatcher, so compelling. In Foxcatcher, Miller delicately explores the way that narcissism subtly infiltrates, and ultimately erodes, the two central relationships at the core of the film.
Based on true events, Foxcatcher highlights the tragic events that resulted from the tenuous friendship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his financial backer John du Pont (Steve Carell). An accomplished athlete, and moody loner, Mark has always lived in the shadows of his more charismatic, and fellow gold medalist older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Jealous that Dave is being groomed by the U.S.A. Olympic team for a prominent role, Mark is determined to make it to the 1988 Olympics on his own.
When John du Pont, the self-proclaimed richest man in America, reaches out with hopes of sponsoring him, Mark finally feels like he has found someone who truly understands him. A man whose family lineage seems to hemorrhage money, du Pont is an individual who gets what he wants. He flaunts his power by purchasing top of the line military vehicles, complete with automatic machine guns, with the same ease of a rapper flaunting his latest sports car. He is a man of many vices whose latest obsession is his desire to add an Olympic medal to his vast trophy room.
Always wanting to be in control of every situation, du Pont is immediately drawn to the fact that Mark is a rough slap of clay that can easily be molded. Portraying himself like a father figure to Mark, du Pont slowly beings to take advantage of the athlete’s trusting nature. Like a puppy dog, Mark does everything that is requested of him, including recruiting other wrestlers to join du Pont’s Foxcatcher Farm stable of athletes. However, when du Pont feels Mark is getting too big for his britches, the billionaire decides to hire Dave to take over the training duties. The presence of Dave not only puts a strain on his relationship with Mark, but also sends the friendship between du Pont and Mark spiraling out of control.
Taking a very methodical approach, almost to a fault at times, Foxcatcher is a film that simmers for a longtime before bubbling over. Miller immerses the viewer deep into the dense and bleak atmosphere of the film, only letting them up for air in brief moments of levity. Most of the film’s instances of humour come at the expense of the American dream. Money and power are frequently linked to pain, envy and mental instability. Being a proud American has little to do with serving your country, but rather striving to be worshipped by your country.
Money is viewed as both a tool to control others and a type of emotional crutch. Carell plays John du Pont as a man who, despite his vast fortune and power, is still in need of his mother’s approval. It is his constant desire for praise, coupled with his unpredictable psychological nature, that makes du Pont such an eerie character. His psychopathic traits are misinterpreted as eccentricities. While Carell’s strong performance, and Channing Tatum’s work as well for that matter, will get the bulk of attention when discussing the film, it is Mark Ruffalo who actually provides the best performance in Foxcatcher.
As Dave, Ruffalo is the real heart of the film. He not only provides weight to the tragic event that occurs, but is also the grounding force that binds the Mark Schultz and John du Pont relationship together. Dave is the light of humanity within the dark and self-centered compound that Du Pont has created for himself. The film simply would not be as effective without him. While not quite on par with Capote, Foxcatcher is an extremely well-done film provides insight into a tragic event with grace and subtlety.