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Foxcatcher: Conservative Screenwriting Meets Skillful Acting

By Nguyen Le · December 23, 2014

As said by Alison Krauss (or Ronan Keating or Keith Whitley, depends on which version you prefer), you say it best when you say nothing at all. In his third outing director Bennett Miller does just that, going low-key, to provide one of the year’s strangest yet satisfying filmgoing experiences.

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is living the life, if you zero in only at his wrestling achievements (an Olympic gold medal among them) and ignore his loneliness or inability to stand apart from his brother Dave’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow. There is no wife, no kids, or an invite to coach the country’s Olympic wrestling team in Mark’s sights. Then, opportunity presents itself. A call from eccentric millionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carrell) sends Mark to the man’s lavish mansion and grand gym – the ideal crucible where the next best wrestlers of the States and world emerge under the banner “Team Foxcatcher.” For those who know the story, du Pont’s dream shatters when he goes to prison for murdering Dave.

In Foxcatcher, there is not one, but three, captivating performances from actors embodying the kind of characters you rarely see them in. Though much of the spotlight is given to Carrell – and indeed he deserves all the attention for being frightening, pitiful and simultaneously both at some moments through a calculating speech pattern and eagle-like gaze – Tatum is the surprise here. The actor ditches his known pretty boy image to give us this intense, victory-driven character, the bull who is desperate to prove he is the best of his herd. The chemistry between Mark and John, both men who identify with each other through loneliness and lack of self-worth, is very convincing, making a solid foundation for the chaos when Dave enters the picture. As Dave, Ruffalo expresses a lot through his eyes, including his love for Mark, his awareness of Mark’s jealousy and the brotherly sadness whenever Mark shuts him out.


Worth noting too are the wrestling scenes, where Miller shows us how dedicated the actors are to their roles by using no cuts or the conventional sports drama camera tricks.

The dialogue-light nature writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman are going for in Foxcatcher is, while bold and attractive, draining for the viewers draining at times. It constantly demands viewers to be active, working out what is being thought about behind what (sometimes little) is being spoken out loud. There is a little game here where you, the viewer, is being played by the writers here… which in a sense is a fitting parallel to the brothers being controlled by du Pont in the latter’s quest to build a legacy unattached to his parents’ name.

Adding to the starkness of it all is Greig Fraser’s cinematography. The colors are muted, the camera placements are distant and the atmosphere is cold – all are great ingredients to emphasize the isolation of Mark and John’s minds, of the void that both are standing on at the moment in life. As with the approach settled on by Miller, the writers and the performers, the fancy and the high-strung have no place in Foxcatcher. Just raw, as is, cold served style.

I do admit that Foxcatcher will test you for being too different and gloomy, especially when Christmas is already in the air. Should you choose to take it, however, prepare to witness a skillfully crafted and acted character study that is both bizarre and engrossing.

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