Title: Foxcatcher

Director: Bennett Miller (‘Capote,’ ‘Moneyball’)

Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller

Emotional and economic struggles can often lead family members to grow closer together, while maintaining great wealth can often drive relatives apart as they strive to maintain their power. But despite people’s different lifestyles and connections, misunderstandings and the pain of not always receiving the same respect for their equally hard work can often lead to misguided loyalty to the wrong people and causes. The immense agony people are forced to contend with as they try to maintain, or build, strong relationships is powerfully showcased in director Bennett Miller’s new biographical drama, ‘Foxcatcher.’ The film enthrallingly chronicles the harrowing and gripping true story of the Schultz brothers, who were close when they both won gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. But their bond was powerfully tested when they encountered the wealthy John du Pont, who supported their ambitions in an effort largely meant to prove his worth to his mother.

‘Foxcatcher’ follows wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) as he struggles with obscurity and poverty in Wisconsin after winning his gold medal. His luck appears to suddenly change when he’s invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to his lavish Pennsylvania estate to form a team and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. While Mark has been training with his revered older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who’s a prominent wrestling coach and also a Gold Medal winner, the younger sibling enthusiastically seizes the opportunity to work with John. While he’s desperate to recapture his glory from the 1984 Olympic Games, Mark is mainly motivated to begin working with John so that he can step out of Dave’s shadow.

With his vast financial resources and state-of-the-art training facility at Foxcatcher Farm, John appoints himself head coach of the team. John was initially interested in recruiting Dave to help build his team, but the wrestler declined the offer because he didn’t want to move his wife, Nancy (Sienna Miller) and their two children half-way across the country. So John extended the offer to Mark instead, hoping that he’ll be able to persuade his brother to change his mind. The heir of the du Pont empire, which prides itself on its assertion that it’s the wealthiest family in America, is determined to create the best wrestling team possible, as he’s eager to win the respect of his peers and the approval of his condemning mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave).

Despite his initial desire to work with Dave, John comes to embrace Mark as not just a wrestler, but also a friend. Mark also begins to embrace his benefactor as a father figure, since his parents divorced when he was a young child. But his new coach’s mercurial and domineering personality and psychological gameplay begins to weigh heavily on Mark’s insecure personality and low self-esteem, which come to undermine his abilities on the mat. When John’s favoritism shifts back to Dave after he finally agrees to work at Foxcatcher, both the coach and Mark begin to grow jealous of his authority and confidence, traits they both lack. When the three also grow envious of each other’s relationships, they’re propelled into a harrowing situation that will drastically damage all their lives forever.

Miller was smartly hired to helm the emotionally gripping and tantalizing theatrical examination of the relationships between the Schultz brothers and John. The Academy Award-nominated director, who rightfully has garnered fame for helming intriguing dramas that are based on true events, including the acclaimed ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball,’ powerfully showcased how the love and loyalty between Mark and Dave disintegrated after they came into contact with the eccentric multi-millionaire.

The filmmaker effortlessly showcased how the complex characters in ‘Foxcatcher,’ who were driven by their despair and driving need to be appreciated by the people they love, offer powerful understanding of how society disregards those they no longer deem valuable. Miller’s determined and relentless research into how Mark, Dave and John all connected with each other, and how their perceptions of each other kept quickly changing after seeing how they all interacted together, was powerfully translated onto the screen.

Miller’s dedication to expressively and passionately chronicling the equally harrowing and loving emotions the three lead characters felt towards each other and about the world was similarly conveyed by Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell. With the actors cast well in advance of the start of the film’s pre-production, they dedicated themselves to truly uncovering the circumstances and sentiments that drove the Schultz brothers and John to make the decisions they did while they were together.

By speaking with Dave’s wife Nancy and other people who knew him, including his coach and one of his closest friends, John Giura, Ruffalo and Tatum impressively infused their on-screen relationship with a close bond that was damaged by an underlining resentment. After spending several months training with wrestling choreographer Jesse Jantzen before they began filming, both actors dedicatedgly incorporated the brothers’ stances, moves and styles into the scenes where they were both training and competing.

Ruffalo made the most stunning overall physical transformation in the film as he brought the practical and protective older Schultz brother to the screen. The Oscar-nominated actor, who was 45 at the time he filmed his role as the 33-year-old wrestler in ‘Foxcatcher,’ smartly studied videos of his character’s matches to obtain a better sense of who Dave was. Between his hairstyle and beard that helped him bear a striking resemblance to Dave, as well as his natural movements while coaching and wrestling Mark and his other students, Ruffalo admirably captured his character’s true essence.

While Dave and Mark both enjoyed the praise they received after winning their respective Gold Medals at the 1984 Olympics, Tatum subtly infused the younger Schultz brother with a bitter sense of betrayal after they returned home. With Dave being the older brother who garnered a bit more admiration for his more natural talents on the wrestling mats, and then more easily being able to pursue his own family and career after their Olympic glory began to fade, Tatum enthralling showed how Mark felt no one truly cared for him anymore.

While Ruffalo and Tatum captivatingly captured the Schultz brothers’ struggle to relate to each other, particularly as Mark attempted to find his own identity and sense of purpose away from his older brother’s acclaim, Carell gave the true standout performance in ‘Foxcatcher.’ While the Golden Globe Award-winning actor is primarily known for his comedic work in films and on television, Carell proved his effortless understanding of John feeling burdened by his family legacy, which he wasn’t able to uphold. The performer perfectly embodied his internal struggle to try to make his unaffectionate mother proud of his accomplishments in wrestling, despite caring more for her prized horses.

While John was a bit more successful of creating his own identity that was separate from his family than Mark was, particularly through his philanthropist work and being a benefactor to numerous sports, Carell perfected his character’s dark and eccentric nature. The actor enthralling presented the character as being driven to obtain the cultural respect he has longed for, but he wasn’t able to earn the high esteem he sought. While John did become the savior of the U.S. Olympic wrestling community, particularly after he had the Foxcatacher training facility built and became the leading funder of the sport, the actor grippingly showcased how that esteem still wasn’t enough to make him feel worthy.

‘Foxcatcher’ is an immensely powerful biographical drama that smartly and cunningly emphasizes how people’s need to prove their worth, to not only themselves but also those around them, can drive them to take drastic and life-threatening actions. Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo not only powerfully devoted themselves to studying their characters’ real-life counterparts and embraced their physicality and commitment to their sport, but also the emotional burdens they struggled with as they strived to find their own identities and sense of purpose. The actors’ entrancing performances allowed Miller to effortlessly showcase how the complex characters were driven by their need to be appreciated by the people they love, despite how society often disregards those they no longer deem valuable.

Technical: A-

Acting: A

Story: B+

Overall: A-

Foxcatcher Movie Review

Written by: Karen Benardello

Facebook Comments

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *