Like director Bennet Miller’s previous effort, Moneyball, Foxcatcher is a sports movie for people who really aren’t that keen on sports. It arrives in cinemas already garlanded with praise and with much talk of upcoming Oscar nominations for its lead actors. It’s undeniable that both Steve Carell and Channing Tatum have transformed themselves physically (in Carell’s case he’s barely recognisable thanks to the addition of a false nose and false teeth) and they both excel in their respective roles but it’s also true to say that great performances alone can not guarantee a great movie experience. There remains the distinct feeling that Foxcatcher has been somewhat overpraised.
Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum) is a gold medal winning wrestler, who under the guidance of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo) ekes out a grim existence in a trailer, eating poor quality food and training constantly for the upcoming 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Dave too is a gold medal winner but a much more gregarious person than his younger brother who has been living in his shadow for quite some time. But Mark’s life takes a sudden upward surge when out of the blue he is contacted by a representative of John du Pont, a member of America’s richest family and a wrestling enthusiast. Mark goes to his estate in Valley Forge where du Pont explains that he is putting together a team for Seoul and he wants Mark and Dave to join up with him, under his coaching. In exchange for a handsome pay check the two will also have all their accommodation and training costs paid for. Mark needs no second bidding but Dave, a happily married family man, is not so easy to coax onboard, so Mark, sensing an opportunity to prove himself, goers without him. As he settles in with Team Foxcatcher it soon becomes apparent that du Pont is an unstable person, shallow, self-aggrandising and totally in thrall to his domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave.) And when du Pont introduces Mark to the pleasures of cocaine, things begin to go seriously awry. As this is a true story, viewers will know not to expect any happy endings…
So yes, as I said, superb performances from the three leads… but Bennet’s slow-burning style tells the story at a funereal pace and perhaps more fatally, he absolutely fails to inject any excitement whatsoever into the wrestling sequences, which basically come down to a couple of men in spandex cuddling each other on a mat. Consider Warrior (a film with which this has been compared) and think about the blistering fight sequences in that. Foxcatcher is frankly not in the same league. Coupled with this, Tatum’s character is a monosyllabic mumbler while du Pont isn’t exactly Mr Motormouth either, preferring instead to stare at people for minutes at a time and the result is… dare I say it? A bit lumbering, a bit dull. Which is a shame, because there’s a fascinating story locked up here and it needed a different kind of director to set it free. As it stands, the film makes a worthy attempt at greatness but is not entirely successful.