Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
Director: Bennett Miller
E. Max Frye
Music: Rob Simonsen
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Anthony Michael Hall
Another this year’s Oscar hopeful right before the Oscar night (although up to this moment, it is more likely to be an also-ran in all its 5 nominated categories), Bennett Miller tackles another sport after MONEYBALL (2011), his similarly-fated Oscar players. This time it is about wrestling, FOXCATCHER recounts the infamous USA murder case of DavidSchultz (Ruffalo), an Olympic wrestling champion, shot dead by the billionaire John Du Pont (Carell with a fake nose and aged make-up), who started the Team Foxcatcher to sponsor and train national wrestling team for the Olympics, where David was the assistant coach of the team.
Actually the main story here is about David’s younger brother, Mark Schultz (Tatum), also an Olympic champion in 1984, who is firstly recruited by John in 1987 as the promising athlete aiming for gold in the upcoming Olympic Games in Seoul, they form a twisted coach-and-trainee relationship (which reminiscent of this year’s another Oscar contender WHIPLASH 2014) with a pungent insinuation on latent homosexuality (don’t tell me the scenes where a half-naked Mark shaving for John is a common picture in straight men’s fraternities), while Mark is an impressionable youngster who is exalted to find the like-mindedness and camaraderie with the richest man in American (he is an Olympic champion who is failed to be honored by his country); it is John Du Pont, who is a damaged good inside despite of all his superior facades, he is not a professional coach, just a super-rich dilettante bearing an unquenchable passion for wrestling, also he is often under the influence of his feeble but noble mother (a sterling cameo by the venerable Redgrave), who dismisses his passion-of-life as being “low” (as opposite of hers, raising horses). Miller overtly suggests right after that humiliation, John impulsively vents his rage on Mark and called him an ingrate ape, which ignites the fuse of their ultimate falling-out, things further deteriorate when John finally employs David in his team (a belated move as it will turn out that David is the right coach for Mark), but at that moment, their relation turns sour since it is John who previously encourages him to get out of the shadow of his brother, so Mark feels alienated and belittled, he builds the tension both with John and David, finally he fails in the competition and is dropped out of the team soon afterwards.
It has always been a mystery of John’s motivation to murder David, and Miller as always, doesn’t opt to spoon-feed his audience with a clear answer, or dramatize the sensation to be impressive, only leaves his clues among his muted-palette frames with undivided aplomb. So my take is that the murder is John’s revenge to his failed liaison with Mark, in his mind, everything goes awry after David arrives, and he is too blind to realize that he is actually the culprit who causes the fiasco, he becomes paranoid and believes that David is behind all this, and should pay for the consequences, thus, in a word, John is an delusional lunatic, doesn’t deserve any sympathy or redemption, an expensive price to pay to being that rich.
Carrell elevates himself into the elite club of an comedian-turned-Oscar-nominee (Jim Carrey should cry in his bathroom) thanks to such a hyped physical transformation, he is quite impressive to deliver the unnerving vibe which always hides underneath his condescending pompousness, adeptly mocks a self-claimed patriot who has a distorted soul inside without inducing any untimely comic effect, this man is a serious thespian! His fellow Oscar nominee, Ruffalo, is pitch-perfect too, who can be more sympathetic as a loving brother and an eventual victim played by the unassuming Hulk? One highlight is the grapple with Tatum near the beginning, both display tremendous corporeal endeavor to prepare their roles as wrestling pros, meanwhile Miller and his DP Greig Fraser capture the unspoken tension brilliantly which even makes a wrestling layman like myself feeling captivated.
However, to be perfectly frank, Tatum is the one who gives a more admirable performance and a more accomplished character building, although Mark is dumbed down as a walking ape without any sophisticated depth in his mind, quite “a canary in a coal mine”, a measurement of how volatile John Du Pont is, Tatum comes off as a riveting presence from the beginning when he is ill-treated by the society, being socially awkward, seething with spleen and dissatisfaction; with his protruding jaw (more noticeably in his profile) and the chunky unwieldiness, he certainly goes out on a limb to defy all his previous screen charisma to impersonate a character not entirely up his alley, and this is so-called “a breakthrough performance” any young actor aspires to prove to his audience.
MONEYBALL may not grow on me, but FOXCATCHER can easily boost up my confidence towards Miller, after his stunning (non-documentary) feature debut CAPOTE (2005, 9/10), if he can keep working on tantalizing material like this, soon he will find his own keystone as a cinematic auteur with his own fingerprint of handling dark elements with distinguished composure and patience.