Foxcatcher (2014)

Three absolutely brilliant performances (Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo) drive this fascinating, uncomfortable, cold film. I had basically no knowledge of the real events the film is based on before seeing it, but I don’t think knowing them would really detract from the experience; the film is more about characterisation and cultivating a sense of atmosphere rather than plot or surprises.

Director Bennett Miller really does incredible work building a sense of dread and general atmosphere of something being cold and wrong. The film is absolutely relentless in this regard; there’s never any let-up in the discomforting atmosphere and I can absolutely understand it driving many viewers off, even with the captivating performances.

Speaking of the performances, the three leads exhibit a great sense of restraint, which Miller also echoes in his visual and pacing choices. We’re intentionally kept at arms distance, the same way the characters do to each other. The film doesn’t attempt to provide a grand answer or motivation to the shocking act that ends the film; it straightforwardly aims to depict the characters themselves and let the viewers take from that what they will.

The pacing and editing is really quite unconventional at times. Scenes hang and we feel awkward the same way the characters do, yet at other times seemingly important conflicts aren’t depicted. I feel it emphasised the sense of confusion and confusion the characters (particularly Tatum’s and Ruffalo’s) felt. “Foxcatcher” feels more like a series of vignettes through which we observe the characters, rather than a film with a conventional structure progressing through plot or character arcs.

There does seem to be thematic concern with masculinity, America, love and ennui between men, and wealth, but most of the exploration seems left to the viewer to interpret from the film’s subtext. Even the homoeroticism (most clear, for me at least, in the scene where Du Pont gets Mark out of bed at night, then physically wrestles him on top, with Mark clearly uncomfortable and feeling used) is downplayed enough plenty of viewers could miss it.

I can’t praise Tatum, Ruffalo, and Carell enough; they really do deliver absolutely fantastic performances. “Foxcatcher” is a very powerful tragedy as notable for its restraint as what it does put on display.

I give it four trophies, and a cheeseburger to eat in the car.

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