Widgets Magazine

‘Foxcatcher’ review: Bennett Miller crafts a slow but engaging, taut thriller

Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum in "Foxcatcher." Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum in “Foxcatcher.” Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Mere minutes into Bennett Miller’s taut thriller, the superbly crafted “Foxcatcher,” Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz — a faded wrestler and one time gold medalist — delivers a rousing speech about the triumph of the Olympic spirit. His passion and patriotism are unshakable yet his audience — a half-filled auditorium of bored prepubescent youths — could not be more disinterested. This is sad paradox of Schultz’s existence. Yearning for success — and to share his success with others — Schultz is nevertheless met by persistent failure. Mark works but his work never seems to amount to much. His success is symbolic, not material.

At the beginning of Miller’s “Foxcatcher,” Schultz is defined by this never-ending struggle to validate his existence. Overlooked by his peers, and confined to the shadow of his highly regarded older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), Mark seeks to break from the ever-worsening status quo by any means necessary. Thus, when Mark receives an invitation to train at the historic Foxcatcher Farms under the watchful — albeit unqualified — eye of the enigmatic John du Pont (Steve Carell), he swiftly accepts. What follows is a parade of psychological warfare and abuse that is equal measures disturbing and enthralling.

Steve Carrell in "Foxcatcher." Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Steve Carrell in “Foxcatcher.” Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Du Pont yearns to be a wrestler and takes every opportunity to live vicariously through Mark. Consequently, he enviously burns with a desire to toy with Mark, a mere pawn beneath his fattened thumb. Soon, even Dave finds himself dragged into this savage tango, and together the toxic trio rapidly propels “Foxcatcher” to its heart-stopping climax.

Foils in every sense of the word, Tatum and Carell play off each other like demented reflections of Abbott and Costello. Tatum, with his ape-like jaw and overtly masculine gait, is powerful and hardened, “Foxcatcher”’s workingman. Contrast this image with du Pont, an avian creature — born of affluence and raised in opportunity — and the epitome of the perils of inherited privilege. Schultz and du Pont represent two very different visions of success and the contrast between these twin animals lends “Foxcatcher” much of its edge.

Though Miller, of “Capote” and “Moneyball,” fame  is a minimalist in every sense of the word (with a strong preference for the static over the dynamic), there is something brutally and intrinsically violent about “Foxcatcher.” Miller also knows how to truly rattle the viewer and – in concert with the work of Tatum and Carell — Miller succeeds in trapping the viewer in a never-ending dance upon the knife’s edge. Scenes involving Carell’s du Pont, for example, are captured in uneasy close-ups that poke and prod — furiously invading the viewer’s ever-diminishing comfort zone. Miller’s work is muted but it is by no means tranquil.

A beautiful investigation of the consequences of success and inherited wealth, “Foxcatcher” is unconcerned with issues of time, mining tension from the sheer power of the forces at play. “Foxcatcher” may be a bit of a slow burn, but it is a burn that knows how to leave a deep and forceful scar.

“Foxcatcher” opens at the Aquarius Theatre in Palo Alto on Wednesday, November 26.

Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Will Ferrer

Will Ferrer is a junior at Stanford, a current member of The Editorial Board, and a former Executive Editor, Managing Editor of Arts & Life, and Film/TV Desk Editor at The Stanford Daily. Will is double-majoring in Film and Media Studies and English Literature. After a childhood spent nabbing R-rated movies from his brother’s collection, Will is annoyingly passionate about all things entertainment. Heralding from Northern Virginia, Will abhors Maryland drivers and enjoys saying he is “essentially from Washington DC.” Contact him at wferrer@stanford.edu.