4 stars
The most surprising thing about Foxcatcher is not Steve Carell's transformation into the bleak, humourless millionaire John DuPont, but that he should be in the film at all.
Bennet Miller's searing drama about the awkward philanthropist is a dark affair in all regards; there's not a joke in sight. Yet he saw in Carell the capacity to draw from a deep well of sadness (something hinted at in Little Miss Sunshine) to create this troubled, fascinating character. A little prosthetic work later and the transformation was complete.

Miller pitches Carell opposite Channing Tatum (Magic Mike) and Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are Alright) as Olympic quality wrestlers in whom DuPont saw an opportunity to put his stamp on the world. His vision was a team led by gold medal winner Mark Schulz and together they'd give hope to an ailing America through the power of sport. DuPont's mother was not impressed; to this blue-blood, wrestling was a low business. Yet the needy 'collector' remained determined, bringing in Mark's brother to help train the men and bath in the reflected glory of America's golden boy. “Coach is the father. Coach is a mentor. Coach has great power on athlete's life,” recited DuPont.

At first, Foxcatcher seems like a familiar if well produced sports story (one given the added appeal of minimally clad wrestlers), yet soon reveals it is anything but. Miller revisits the angsty, near-thriller territory of his Capote in telling this increasingly murky true-story about the fatal mismatch of potential, ego and desire. Awash with passion, tension and tightly-wrapped muscle, he creates a brooding atmosphere as Schulz is swallowed by DuPont's misguided ambition. Yet as the film reveals more about each of its characters, less is understood. What does DuPont really want from Schulz? Is he a ticket to elusive maternal approval, or simply a trophy to collect? Mark's motivations are just as occluded: is this a brother thing, a father-son thing, or something much more complicated? Finding what lies beyond their self-deception is the heart of the drama.

As the film works toward a startling conclusion, all eyes are on Carell as he brings some clarity to the complicated DuPont. Yet Tatum is no slouch either, giving Schulz a haunted quality that hints at a mind troubled by events which are always one step ahead of him. The quiet achiever in all this is Globe nominee Ruffalo who provides Mark's watchful brother a dancer's light touch. It's perfect for the character, perfect for the film and like the others, Ruffalo is soon lost in the role. Foxcatcher is a tremendous achievement for all – director, cast and notably writer Dan Futterman (Capote) who took a hard, steady look at American privilege and found it wanting. This is not a pleasant film – it's a desperate indictment on class that swiftly turns to stomach wrenching tragedy – but it is a great film and one you shouldn't miss.


Previewed at Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on 10 November 2014
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3.5 stars

Dorothy Parker has been quoted as saying, “If you want to know what God thinks about money, just look at the people he gave it to.” A perfect example of this dictum is borne out in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which is based on the rise and spectacular fall of one of America’s richest men, John E. (Eleuthere) du Pont, whose family initially made their fortune during the Civil War from the manufacturing and sale of gunpowder and ammunition. He was a philanthropist who was interested in ornithology, conchology and philately but who, above all, yearned to be a wrestling coach to satisfy his excessive compulsive enthusiasm for the sport.

In the ‘80s, Du Pont (Steve Carell – Hope Springs / The 40 Year-Old Virgin) set up a wrestling facility at his Foxcatcher Farm on the family’s estate in Delaware and became the sponsor of the USA wrestling team training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. His particular protégé was Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum - Magic Mike), who had previously been ably coached by his brother and fellow champion wrestler Dave (Mark Ruffalo - The Kids Are Alright). Du Pont, one of the creepiest characters you’ll ever see on the big screen, encouraged Mark to break with his brother, telling him it was time he stepped out from Dave’s shadow. Taking up residence at the farm, Mark performed well initially but, as he fell further under Du Pont’s toxic spell, his career became compromised by the use of alcohol and cocaine. The end result was, not unexpectedly, a mess, as the brothers’ lives were torn apart by the mental and physical changes that were demanded of them by du Pont. But it was du Pont himself who was to undergo the most extreme changes, leading to tragedy and scandal.

Steve Carell’s portrayal of this insidious character is compelling. He was in make-up for a number of hours before the shoot each day. He then spent more time having it taken off, long after the other actors had left the shoot, all of which added to his sense of aloofness and isolation and intensified the level of unease on set as he was distant from his fellow actors the whole time. It was the perfect atmosphere for playing this complex, twisted character who was always looking to please his mother, Jean (Vanessa Redgrave - Song For Marion), despite the fact that she didn’t approve of his passion for wrestling. She viewed it as a “low sport” and declared she did not like seeing him being “low.”

The performances in this film are all stunning. Tatum and Ruffalo are both utterly convincing as wrestlers. The Oscar nominations for both Carrel and Ruffalo are well-deserved and it will be interesting to see if they win (frankly, Tatum deserved a nomination too). This is a highly competitive year and even though Foxcatcher has lost out on a Best Picture nomination, there is hope that Miller, who brought us the magnificent Capote, will break through the ranks and take home a gong for Best Director or the writers for Best Original Screenplay. Go see this film, you won’t be disappointed and it may make you question where you were when this all happened. It’s an explosive story that seems to have been forgotten until now.


Previewed at Roadshow Theatre, Sydney, on 14 January 2015

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Steve Carell
Channing Tatum
Mark Ruffalo
Vanessa Redgrave

Bennet Miller

E. Max Frye
Dan Futterman



129 minutes

January 29, 2015
Foxcatcher (2014) on IMDb