By Paul Rodger
As far as sports films go, so few touch so chilling a key as this year’s Oscar nomination and crime biopic, Foxcatcher. Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote; Moneyball) and starring Steve Carell (Anchorman; The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Channing Tatum (Coach Carter; Magic Mike; 21 Jump Street), and Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers; Shutter Island) the film charts the story of capricious millionaire John du Pont (Carell) and his relations with Olympic Gold Medal-winning brothers Dave (Ruffalo) and Mark Schulz (Tatum).
Toiling away training and living poorly in a sleepy backwater US town, Mark Schulz receives a phone call summoning him to visit du Pont at his sprawling country estate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Offering to support Schulz financially and a place in his private “Team Foxcatcher” wrestling team, Mark agrees to relocate to the “Foxcatcher Farm”. After impressing in training and shining in competition, winning Gold at the 1987 World Wrestling Championships, du Pont lauds his young protégé, forming a close friendship with Mark and informing him of his turbulent relationship with his elderly mother who looks down on his sporting niche and ignores his achievements. Following an altercation after Mark and his teammates fail to show up for morning training, du Pont shuns him and demands that his older brother moves to the estate and joins his team. A staunch American patriot and sporting enthusiast, du Pont wishes to return past glories to his home nation and looks towards the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul as his main stage. With tensions strained and his team fractured with Mark training alone, Mark loses his first match after a lackluster performance, resulting in him breaking out in blind anger and wrecking his room. Following disappointment at the Olympics, Mark informs his older brother that he can’t stay at the estate and leaves, with Dave deciding to stay with his family on the estate and continue to coach and train in du Pont’s team.
At times, the narrative seems languid, with the 129minute running time pacing slowly through the erratic relations and situations that the characters find themselves in. Revealing the deep sibling bond between the Schulz brothers, juxtaposed alongside the adverse maternal indifference of du Pont’s mother towards John. Through du Pont’s idiosyncratic persona and aggressive ambitions, the team he forms and the respect he demands establishes an insidious – almost cult like – atmosphere around the misty, rural estate and du Pont’s enigmatic character. Inspecting deeper, the film evokes pertinent contemporary issues. Depicting the bitter, exasperated fallout with Mark, the film draws attention to the problems surrounding institutionalization in sport and its damaging psychological effects. Presenting parental oppression in the domestic sphere alongside subjugation through sporting institutionalization, plus strong individual performances from Carell, Ruffalo, and Tatum, form a tight and adhesive narrative that carries this feature so well. With tough competition from American Sniper, Birdman, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Foxcatcher – albeit not making the nominations list for best picture – delves beyond superficial visuals, exploring with striking depth individuals and relations of intense visceral complexity and resonance. Creating an enduring yet potent watch. Accordingly, Foxcatcher is a fit and rightful nominee for best actor, best director, best supporting actor, and best original screenplay.