I didn’t think I’d be interested in Foxcatcher – let alone enjoy it. It’s far from my usual go-to movie genre: a dark sporting biopic, focusing on Olympic medal-winning wrestling-superstar brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, and the tragic – and utterly crazy – turn of events that followed when they were taken under the wing of multi-millionaire, John du Pont.
However – against all the odds, I was hooked: totally and utterly, as was my wrestling-devotee fiancé, who had vaguely heard of the Schultz brothers, who were catapulted to fame long before WWF.
The movie, directed by Bennett Miller, was told primarily from the perspective of Mark – the younger Schultz brother, often overlooked in favour of the more charismatic Dave. The scene is set: the gentle sibling rivalry plays out as Dave and Mark tussle around on the floor of the gym where they train, Dave dominating his brother and yet always helping him back off the floor.
Dave is open, honest and happy – a family man, married with two children. Mark, on the other hand, appears to be a loner, something perhaps further emphasised by the inferiority he feels in comparison to his brother. The film’s opening scenes set this up perfectly; Mark – taking the place of Dave, who has cancelled at the last minute – delivers a talk at a school about sporting opportunities. After the talk, a member of staff refers to him as ‘Dave’.
Anyway – I could ramble on about the sibling dynamics but I won’t. Mark’s Cinderella moment comes when he is invited by John du Pont (a crazy-rich sporting enthusiast) to move onto his estate, Foxcatcher Farm, and train there. John is adamant that the USA will go on to further wrestling victory in the upcoming World Championship, and is also keen for Mark to train other upcoming wrestlers, in order to keep the United States at the top of the leaderboard.
John is introduced as an achievement-hungry recluse; he lives on a sprawling 800-acre estate with his elderly mother, and whilst on the surface appears relatively normal, quickly begins to display spiralling tendencies of control and anger. Mark, seeking a father figure, becomes enthralled by John; however, the relationship becomes toxic. John introduces Mark to cocaine, and the younger Schultz brothers appears to be on the verge of self-destruction until his brother is summoned to Foxcatcher to fix things.
Mark’s jealousy of his brother is never more apparent than when he first arrives at Foxcatcher; whilst the other budding wrestlers greet him like a hero, Mark is barely able to make eye contact. His self-destructive behaviours continue, almost resulting in disaster. However, his brother is able to pull him back from the edge – although a jealous, bitter Du Pont is barely able to control his rage at Dave’s ability to connect with Mark in a way that Du Pont has never managed.
Du Pont’s descent into madness is hinted at throughout; he is, in essence, a repressed mummy’s boy, fixated on past glories and determined to feel like a champion again. He is lonely and loveless, trapped on a sprawling estate with only his mother for company, and even she doesn’t seem to be able to bear him. He is ruthlessly determined to be seen as a coach of champions; Dave’s refusal to comment on the propaganda-esque show reel about the Foxcatcher training academy speaks silent volumes.
The film’s ending is tragic, crazy and unexpected. There’s no justification for it, which mirrors the reality of what actually happened, and Du Pont’s bubble-like world of luxury, respect and endless prestige bursts with a resounding pop. It’s upsetting but all the more so because there is simply no logic behind it; I won’t go into details but if you see the film, you’ll understand what I mean.
Channing Tatum’s charmless Mark is hard to like in comparison to Mark Ruffalo’s easy-going, laidback Dave. Steve Carrell is pitch-perfect as the deranged John du Pont (the prosthetic nose is unlike anything I’ve ever seen…), and there are several other star turns, with both Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller appearing, as Du Pont’s mother and Dave’s wife, respectively.
Captivating – the film was visually spectacular, and detail-rich. If you’ve watched the film, you’ll almost certainly have been left with 99 questions about the what, the why and the how, so you might want to read Mark Schultz’s autobiography of the same name.
In cinemas now; watch the trailer below.