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Foxcatcher Review: The Mounting Horror of Near Silence

Friday, December 05, 2014 Rob Samuelson

Foxcatcher



Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo

Everyone jumped.

Anyone with even a tangential understanding of Foxcatcher's “based on a true story” bonafides knew where it was going. It prepared us every step of the way, dissecting the possible reasons for the instant when the story charges headlong toward horrific violence, but it remains visceral and shocking. And so we leapt.

Part of what brings Foxcatcher to this point is its sound design, with a quiet, muted sensibility throughout it, only to be broken up by one of the most jarring intrusions of elevated volume in film. Part of it is the off-kilter line delivery in the scene and lack of traditional beats leading to the moment – it lands in the silence between beats. But mostly, the shock comes as a result of director Bennett Miller's (Capote, Moneyball) penchant for cinematic stillness.

There is little physical movement in Foxcatcher, be it on the part of the characters or the camera. Miller shoots things with an almost tableau quietude, keeping the camera static, holding on his figures, allowing for us to digest the mountain of information embedded in these pictures, relying on the power of image to tell us everything. It's the ultimate “show, don't tell” film.

We don't need to be told how uncomfortable each of the three leads are in their skin. We see it, we feel it, in every shot. Channing Tatum's Mark Schultz, a former Olympic gold medal winner in wrestling, has a cauliflower ear that is never once commented upon. He walks hunched over with a slight limp, speaking only when spoken to, allergic to eye contact. His older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), was the first gold medal winner in the family and the shadow that hangs over Mark. He is the most well adjusted member of the cast, but even he can't stop tugging at his beard nervously, scratching at his receding hairline, bouncing around and fidgeting, unsure of his every move unless he's coaching Mark in the ring. And Steve Carell's John du Pont, the billionaire benefactor who brings U.S.A. Wrestling's Olympians to train at his Foxcatcher compound, befriending and manipulating Mark every step of the way, is clearly in pain with every step. He walks gingerly, pigeon-toed, putting his hands limply at his hips, calculating how much energy he needs to conserve to get through the day, in order to deal with his inner conflict.

It is that internal struggle where all the movement happens in Foxcatcher. Du Pont has been ruined by an overbearing, impossible-to-please (in his eyes) mother, incalculable wealth, and a pitiful understanding of human interaction, having grown up without friends, either because of his inherent unknowability or because of the nearly impenetrable firewall that wealth creates. He looks like a sickly monster, with real-world affable nice guy Carell buried beneath makeup that makes him look like the German Expressionism villain version of the real du Pont. He needs to be rid of his mother's disappointment, her disapproving of him “being low” with his newfound wrestling “expertise,” which he shows to her in laughable sub-rudimentary coaching sessions with the athletes as she watches, not believing the fraud taking place in front of her.

But he needs to believe he is almost godlike as a coach and mentor in order to overcome his insecurity. Mark, too, needs to get away from Dave's powerful influence on his life to become his own man. He puts all his trust and life in du Pont, the man who says he believes in Mark, will treat him like a son, and build him into a two-time gold medal winner. They're all warmed over positive thinking affirmations – “If you can think it, you can do it” type of stuff – in place of anything resembling concrete knowledge about the sport of wrestling, but Mark is drawn to it because of the allure of being his own man.

But that's not necessarily true. Maybe it starts that way, but du Pont's inability to connect on a real level with others – plus a large appetite for booze and cocaine – makes him lash out at Mark and turn on him, bringing Dave on as Foxcatcher Wrestling's head coach. This deterioration of a quasi-friendship slowly erodes everyone's already diminished humanity, with Mark growing ever more silent, his eyes deadening with hatred, becoming self-destructive as a form of spite. With Dave now on board, he tries to rectify the situation with love, sometimes of the tough variety, for his brother. Du Pont recognizes his prize – all Mark really is to him – is slipping out of his grasp, and a personal trauma dislodges him completely from reality, setting up the climax.


Foxcatcher is a film about spite and its consequences, human reluctance (inability?) to forgive. Miller investigates it with such a steady hand, providing beautifully composed portraits for us to chew on – although, Mr. Miller, it wouldn't kill you to turn up the color saturation a notch or two – and a knack for internalism. It's haunting and gorgeous.

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