By Corrina Antrobus @corrinacorrina
There are twists in Foxcatcher that go beyond what we know of the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and his relationship with millionaire coach John du Pont. Steve Carell with a huge prosthetic nose puppeteering Channing Tatum in a leotard and a face like a rucksack, sounds like a recipe for a naff comedy. However Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller, is a tender, rich and incredibly sad drama with a throbbing sinister vein.
If you’re not hot on your wrestling history you’ll find no spoilers here, but see it before someone ruins the experience of this respectful recall of a bewildering tale.
Steve Carrel is John du Pont – the eccentric loner who lures gold medallist wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) to his mansion to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark comes with low self-esteem and high expectation making him desirable to du Pont who’s in need of a protégé and someone to share his unhealthy habits with.
Ape-like Mark may be great at wrestling, but his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) is brilliant and despite the genuine brotherly love, Mark looms in the shadows of his older sibling’s excellence. Sporting superiority aside, Dave leads a wholesome life with beautiful wife Nancy (Sienna Miller) and their boisterous brood – an essential dimension to his character but a mere accessory to the plot. To placate Mark, du Pont welcomes the more charismatic Mark into this seedy situation which soon inspires a three’s-a-crowd scenario.
Like Miller’s previously acclaimed work (Capote and Moneyball), he creates a vacant, slick as steel world and crams it with a pulsating anxious atmosphere. With Foxcatcher, the dialogue seems to trail off after a narrative peak allowing the sullen performances to death march us to a climatic finale.
Carell’s comedy CV make him a peculiar choice for such a gloomy role, but Miller explains; ‘the nature of this character is that he’s unexpected. Nobody believed what du Pont was capable of.’
Carrell delivers someone who’s somewhere between Norman Bates and Mr Magoo which haunted those who knew du Pont with unnerving familiarity. Ruffalo, who watched over 200 hours of footage of the pitiful coach, says the result was ‘creepily uncanny’, and Dave’s wife Nancy Schultz confessed to feeling uncomfortable around Carrell who often stayed in character on set.
du Pont may appear emotionally flaccid, but under those beady eyes and piercing death stare lies a man who wants to be more than just an heir and prove his worth to his icy, wheelchair-bound mother (a royal performance from Vanessa Redgrave). She has a better bond with her horses than her disappointing son, adding another slab of psychological drama to the theme of complex, dangerous relationships.
Foxcather’s enjoyment lies on succumbing to the grainy, glum world Miller has created and surrendering to the bewitching performances of the champion cast – something that even all those prosthetics can’t distract from. It’s cagey, creepy and shocking and those put off by the machismo of wrestling needn’t’ worry – the most ferocious match here is that of emotional chaos.
Foxcatcher is on general release from January 9th.