Foxcatcher Review

So I watched Foxcatcher…

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The world of sports is always an interesting topic for film but this movie gives us a rare look into the psychology of athletes and the importance of their relationships with their coaches and mentors.

Okay, basic plot: Channing Tatum is Mike Schultz, a former Olympic gold-medallist wrestler who feels stuck in life. He hasn’t received the glory he feels he deserves and he feels trapped in the shadow of his older brother – Dave – who is also a wrestler and gold-medallist. Enter John E. Du Pont (played to perfection by Steve Carell) a wrestling enthusiast and coach who believes that the sport hasn’t received the praise it merits. Mike agrees to let John train him but du Pont’s strange and eccentric nature soon gets too much to handle.

Now from the synopsis I just gave, you’re probably expecting this to be a run-of-the-mill sports flick where an overbearing coach pushes an athlete too far and the coach becomes one of the obstacles that the athlete has to overcome. Fortunately – and at times, unfortunately – Foxcatcher isn’t that simple a sports movie. In fact, I don’t think this film is about sport at all. Wrestling is a backdrop for the plot and while it is a factor, it isn’t the focus of the film. This movie is about the psychology of talented individuals in highly competitive environments.

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With all the hype around the Oscar Pistorius trial, last year, there seemed to be a bevy of psychiatrists and psychologists who came out commenting on Pistorius’ mental state. Now, of course, none of these experts had actually treated Pistorius and were basing their comments on previous experience and their understanding of professional athletes. And one of the points they raised was that the mentality of an athlete, especially a successful one, can be far different from that of a lay person. Athletes tend to be extremely passionate, intensely focused and prone to delusions of grandeur. One of the psychiatrists even mentioned that they often show sociopathic tendencies – not in that they want to kill people or anything but that they are so consumed with victory that no other emotions or thoughts can exist in their minds. Reason why I mention this is because, as stated earlier, Foxcatcher is a look into the mentality of a professional athlete more than a traditional sports movie.

Mark and du Pont both have massive inferiority complexes. Mark wants to surpass his brother and be seen as an individual instead of merely his brother’s – Dave – younger brother. Du Pont has mother issues falling out of his butt – he wants to achieve success and gain his mother’s respect and admiration. Both men see in each other a way to achieve their respective goals and both act in ways that would be considered strange in the regular world but are encouraged and seen as expressions of intensity and desire in the sports world.

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I’m not saying the characters in this movie perform ritual sacrifices and drink human blood but they definitely act in ways that wouldn’t be considered rational. I think if I only had to describe this movie in one word, it would be ‘intense’. You really get a feel for the culture and what has to happen behind-the-scenes in sports for success.

I really have to give Steve Carell an enormous amount of praise for his performance. I know he’s got a bunch of facial prosthetics and is almost unrecognisable but the power of his performance isn’t rooted in the makeup, and facial prosthetics don’t always guarantee great acting, just ask Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I think what makes a great performance isn’t just what the character says or even how they say it, it’s in the idiosyncrasies that the actor brings to the table. The way the character walks, his breathing, his stance; the little things are often the difference between a good and a great performance.  Carell nails the little things and totally immerses himself in du Pont. His performance is breathtaking and reminded me a lot of what Sir Anthony Hopkins did in Silence of the Lambs.

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One of the best, and worst, things about this movie is the lack of dialogue at times. Characters often don’t articulate their emotions and instead the director relies on long stares and silent brooding to express emotion. This works really well at times because it allows the scene to speak for itself but is also annoying because you often have to decipher the events of the film. Characters go from liking each other to not liking each other without explaining why and you’re left wondering if scenes from the movie are missing. Also since the plot of the movie is driven by the substitution of dialogue with stares and moping, the movie often feels drawn out.

Overall, Foxcatcher is an interesting movie to see. Carell and Mark Ruffalo really put in some superb acting and Channing Tatum manages to hold his own. The film starts to drag near the end and never really reaches any consistency with its pacing. I recommend going to the cinema to see it, I anticipate Oscar buzz. 7/10

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