Foxcatcher, a depiction of the troubled relationship between millionaire John DuPont and Olympic winners Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum respectively) has been doing the rounds recently, being critically lauded as a perfect depiction of DuPont’s near-obsessive involvement in wrestling. It has been seen through a multitude of thematic lenses, ranging from classist interpretations through to homoerotic assumptions regarding DuPont’s opinion of Mark Schultz. While all of these ideas are relatively justified, the difficulty in Foxcatcher lies in the fact that it never really settles on any one interpretation. Coming out of the film and attempting to understand the specific vision of director Bennett Miller, one is left mildly bemused and a bit startled.
That is not to say that the film does not contain a number of fantastic directorial flourishes.
The relationship between Dave and Mark Schultz as the two wrestling brothers is understatedly accomplished – one training scene at the beginning of the movie allows the pair’s physicality to say more than a dozen pages of dialogue. The cinematography and coloration of the titular Foxcatcher ranch that DuPont owns is beautifully shown – some isolated canopy of bleak coloration and gloomy pine trees. The film is never cheery, and it is Ruffalo’s Dave Schultz that comes closest to giving a magnetic and warm presence to the screen, and his familial relationship in its nuclear capacity stands at odds with the unusual upbringing of DuPont, who at one stage had a friend hired for him by his mother. Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz gives is a quiet Tatum performance, perfectly physical and mechanical, though never staggeringly eye-catching; it is essentially functional in its approach, perhaps as intended.
Time must be spent on Carell’s performance as DuPont, hailed as a magnificent physical transformation that granted an Oscar nod a couple of weeks ago. Indeed Carell succeeds in bringing an alienating, almost inhuman touch to DuPont, his posture in particular being marked and distinct. But it is a shame Miller does not take this further, and Carell is often forced to remain fixed to a number of similar and repeated mannerisms rather than embrace the supposedly more frenetic moods that DuPont was famous for.
The issue with Foxcatcher is that it seems to want to embellish the narrative with a kaleidoscope of different interpretations. The audience are privy to discussions of DuPont’s maternal relationship, his upbringing and, most distinctly, his fraternal and near-paternal envy of the Schultz brothers. If placed in the right context, DuPont’s story could be comparable with that of Psycho’s Norman Bates, with an antagonist utterly dominated by his mother (played here by a briefly scene-stealing Vanessa Redgrave) and suffering the mental consequences of such. However, no single element became the overriding thematic trend for the film it would have been a far more convincing piece of cinema, but ends up being distinctly unresolved. The best of the interpretations seems to be the fraternal envy of DuPont and his hatred of the closeness of the Schultz brothers. Mark Ruffalo’s warm touches make him the character most appealing to the audience, but by presenting this relationship in such a glowing light Miller gives himself further baggage to deal with. In the end Foxcatcher is a thrilling and draining ride, but one that leaves the audiences unsure of the implication of their ending. One final word of advice – if you do not know the true story behind the film, do not read up on it before watching.