Honor, Glory, Destruction
The tragedy of the John du Pont story rocked America to its core back in 1996, culminating towards a sinking feeling that reeked of devastation, calamity, and catastrophic proportions. Nineteen years later, a film has been crafted to retell the story that sent America into disarray, and like many other films based upon true tales, Foxcatcher thrives.
Directed by Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher tells the story of John du Pont (Steve Carell), a multi-millionaire that thrives within the world of wrestling. His ultimate goal – take Team Foxcatcher to the 1988 Summer Olympic Games finals in Seoul. To get there, he enlists Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum), and embarks on a journey that contains tears, hard work, and mental precision. Foxcatcher’s story is derived of the upbeat, Rocky-esque moments we’ve come to expect in sport-related films, and that’s not due to its underlying reality – it’s because Miller has chosen it to be that way through direction. There is plenty to be hopeful about throughout the two hours of the film, but never at one moment did I feel hopeful or excited for Mark Shultz, or his brother David Shultz (Mark Ruffalo), as Miller’s precision in establishing such a serious, confining tone reigns above all else. Foxcatcher makes you feel constricted within the grips of realities sorrowful hands and doesn’t let you go until the credits roll. It’s a tale full of so many things, but hope and happiness are not included on that list.
It’s hard not to feel confused about Steve Carell’s appointment as John du Pont in Foxcatcher, but his performance underlines the fact that he’s not just a comedy man and his ability to change tones so decisively is ultimately more intimidating than anything else. I’ve been a fan of his for many years, and The Office US still ranks as one of my favourite TV series of all time, but I felt genuinely intimated by his presence throughout Foxcatcher and witnessed a fearsome side of him that I never thought I’d see. Carell should really consider taking on more serious roles in the future, as his versatility was certainly on show. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are also excellent, portraying brothers that are contrasting with one another in multiple aspects – Ruffalo, being one of the most successful wrestlers of all time and Tatum, still striving to be the best whilst attempting to avoid falling under his brothers shadow. This contrast creates a unique dynamic that adds a sub-plot to the film that you can’t stop thinking about. It’s a dynamic that siblings and spouses can relate to at some point in their life, and the exploration of this in Foxcatcher is one of the films strongest points. Other cast members don’t do much in the way of changing up the dynamic of the story, instead they move to progress the story to the next act or next major moment. Foxcatcher is truly only about three people, and three people alone.
As with many tales based on true events, the writing in Foxcatcher is top notch, and that’s a credit to writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman as they’ve managed to convey a powerful and at times complex story within a two hour time frame. The film is a slow burn for its entirety, but don’t let that necessarily be a deterrent as it’s a film that doesn’t hold your hand and enables you to just let yourself sink into the shoes of the Shultz brothers and witness the story unfold. Like many great films before it, the writing and direction are what set it apart from others within the genre, and while it’s a dramatisation of the actual events that took place nineteen years ago, it’s handled with care and the utmost amount of precision.
Foxcatcher makes you feel constricted within the grips of realities sorrowful hands and doesn’t let you go until the credits roll.
Foxcatcher’s final asset that it capitalises on is its sound. Again, like many great films before it, the sound becomes the final piece of the puzzle that joins the twisted tale and it’s used sparingly throughout. I’ve personally been a big fan of sporadic use of music and sound within films if utilised well, and with subject matter like Foxcatcher’s, relying on just dialogue becomes a major part in the way the story unfolds. Sure, music does chime in from time to time, but it’s used infrequently and to great effect.
Foxcatcher is a film that some parts of the audience will not enjoy. It’s a film that’s for those that are patient with storytelling and understand the importance of crafting a set up that gives the story of John du Pont and Foxcatcher Farms clarity. It’s a film that encompasses the legacy of a horrific, tragic story and opens it up for an audience that might not have ever known about it otherwise. The cast and crew have done an excellent job in bringing such a dark, insidious tale to life and while it may not be everyones cup of tea, it certainly had me intrigued for its entire duration.
Foxcatcher is tale of tragedy, and its incredibly dark and ominous tone throughout provides an excellent ground for learning about the John du Pont story.