Wrestling Film, "Foxcatcher" Headlocks Heavy Themes


Josh Axelrod

Something very dark lurks just beneath the surface of Bennett Miller’s riveting new drama Foxcatcher. The excellently paced true-crime thriller is sure to deliver chills as a result of its patient build to an intense conclusion.
Foxcatcher features Steve Carrell as John du Pont, millionaire-turned-wrestling-aficionado, who sets his sights on Channing Tatum’s dim-witted Olympian, Mark Schulz. The disturbed magnate aspires to bring home the gold for America and decides to use Schulz to achieve this purpose. Tatum’s brother, played by Mark Ruffalo, is a wrestling coach who becomes a foil for du Pont and the trainings and interactions between these three men serve as the basis for the plot.

Miller’s sure-handed direction anchors the film and provides some brilliantly-filmed scenes. The director responsible for 2005’s Capote and 2011’s Moneyball, loves to find an eccentric character from history and paint a portrait of them through a fascinating character study. However, Foxcatcher is a bit of a deviation from this pattern because Miller presents du Pont without fully revealing all of his cards. We discover a lot about this character as the movie unravels, but never truly learn his motivations or the inner workings of his mind.
Carrell is fantastic, but I don’t think the performance was “transformative” in the way that many are asserting. It is true that Carrell is known primarily as a comedian, and has never really ventured into drama before. But fans of his work will recognize the funnyman’s other characters in John du Pont. Any avid watcher of The Office should notice similarities between his portrayal of the moronic boss Michael Scott and the deeply-deranged sports enthusiast through comparable timing and wacky traits despite the fundamental difference between these characters. The truth is that Carrell lends himself to many zany characters and the switch from comedy to drama is not all that drastic here. Don’t get me wrong; Carrell is magnificent as the obsessive benefactor, but if you are looking for the quintessential silly-to-serious switch go to Robin William’s Oscar-winning performance in Good Will Hunting.

John Du Pont (Steve Carrell): “I consider you a friend. And my friends call me Eagle. Or Golden Eagle. Either of those would work. Or John. Or Coach.”

Steve Carrell is receiving loads of praise for his inspired turn as the unhinged coach but I think Tatum deserves a round of applause for his portrayal of the long-jawed, dead-eyed, insecurity-riddled wrestler. This could have easily been a one-dimensional performance, but Tatum goes for broke and really delivers. He’s proven he can do action with White House Down, romance with Dear John and The Vow, and comedy with the 21 Jump Street franchise. Now with a fantastic performance in Foxcatcher Tatum has discredited all claims that he is simply eye candy and emerged as a formidable leading man.
Foxcatcher’s dark tone and show-don’t-tell style may put off some viewers. However. this engaging thriller ultimately succeeds on behalf of its talented trio of actors and Miller’s great direction.