Is there a darkness inside everyone? And if so, what will break a person in order to bring it out? These questions are posed during Foxcatcher as the film examines its three main characters and how they go about achieving their own versions of “the American dream.”
Foxcatcher follows Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who is one half of the greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team (the other is Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo). While Mark is an Olympic champion, the challenge for him is trying to break from his brother’s shadow, which is what leads him to join Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul.
The relationship between Mark and Dave is central, but director Bennett Miller does a solid job of using the other central relationship of Mark and John to show the gorge between the two brothers and the desire to break from Dave’s shadow that Mark has. Tatum excels in the role as he is able to bring a tortured soul to the character as he sits on the tip of his breaking point throughout the beginning of the film (and before he joins du Pont).
But the performance that sells the film is Steve Carell, who breaks from what he knows best with comedy and transforms himself into the sociopath John E. du Pont. Carell plays the character calm, almost like an iceberg sitting under the water, until his breaking points are hit later on in the film. These breaking points are always hinted at as they lie under the surface and while Carell has an aura around him that screams something big happening (and not in a good way).
But this film reminds me a lot of two other 2014 films, Gone Girl and Whiplash, where the movie tries to have a character that continues to be pushed deeper and deeper into the abyss that they weren’t expecting to go towards. While du Pont is a much different character than Amy in Gone Girl or Fletcher in Whiplash, those films were able to capture the tension and uneasiness much better than Foxcatcher and were successful in making you feel like something could happen at any turn.
Where Foxcatcher lacks behind these films with tension is the complete neglect of anything that could possibly happen throughout the story until the climax. While du Pont is sinister, he never seems capable of doing anything that would wreck the goal he is trying to achieve. His relationship with Mark may go from great to tumultuous, but there is never a fear that something dramatic will happen through the two hours up to the final moments.
This isn’t the fault of Carell, who gives a career performance, or Tatum and Ruffalo, instead it seems like Miller is trying to make a thriller in the mold of David Fincher’s last few films (The Social Network, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl) where the haunting, somewhat electronic score pulses behind these giant figures as they move more and more towards a dramatic end.
Foxcatcher is never able to achieve this mood and instead feels almost detached from the mood that it seems more fitted for. The relationship between Mark and Dave, that becomes strained for awhile, is the crux of the film and while Carell is compelling, his relationship with either wrestler never touches the two brothers and how far they will go to achieve their dream.
Foxcatcher has its moments, and carries some of the year’s best performances, but much like their dreams, it fizzles out in the end and becomes a tired and unstylized attempt at portraying this story.