Olympic wrestling gold medallist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is surprised with an offer from a wealthy heir John E. DuPont (Steve Carell) to support and train him for the 1987 World Championships and the 1988 Olympic Games. Schultz leaves his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and his family behind, as he moves across the country to be part of Team Foxcatcher. It is not long, however, before this new upswing in his lifestyle begins to affect Schultz’s sport.
There has been a lot of talk about Foxcatcher since it screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, not least because of Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose. Channing Tatum takes everything down a notch for his performance as Mark Schultz; there is very little bravado here, just a quiet man who is confident in his abilities. That said, Tatum also manages to make Schultz’s bratty, petty and jealous nature shine through in a way that still makes him relatable, but more human than he could have been. Steve Carell works through the extensive prosthetics to give one of the finest performances of his career. Carell’s posture, gait and speaking rhythms have all but disappeared in his transformation into John E. DuPont, and he makes the character feel like an idle heir simply playing with ‘toys’ until his interest runs out.
Mark Ruffalo has a talent for playing the everyman – part of the reason his performance as Bruce Banner is so strong – and the same goes here. Like Carell, Ruffalo changes his posture, gait and mannerisms to accurately portray an Olympic wrestler, and he is the emotional heart, and voice of reason of the film. Vanessa Redgrave turns up in a handful of scenes as DuPont’s mother, but her presence dominates every scene she is in.
The story is based on the real life history of Team Foxcatcher and the Schultz brothers’ experiences at Foxcatcher farm. The film was delayed for over a year to allow it to be completed, and it seems that these issues could well have arisen from E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman’s screenplay which actually does rather little to give us an insight into the characters, although the actors performances go some way to filling in the blanks. There is a lot to be told about John E. DuPont, but precious little of the man’s erratic behaviour makes its way into the film. Everything is toned down to such an extent that he feels like a petulant child throwing his toys away for displeasing him, rather than a man with a deep-seated mental illness, an illness that would end in tragedy.
Director Bennett Miller has created wonderful performances in the lead cast, many of whom have not attempted a film of this emotional depth and scope, perhaps ever. Miller carefully weaves the personalities at the centre of the film together, and allows the little information given to be released slowly. It is credit to his acting team that they make this drip feed of story, emotional change and relationships shifting work to the benefit of the film.
In all, Foxcatcher is a film that lives and dies with the performances from the central trio. Ruffalo, Carell and Tatum are at the top of their game here, and are an absolute joy to watch, but they are let down by a script that omits too much of actual events from the film, leaving some aspects of the story feeling undertold and underexamined.