The most remarkable thing about Foxcatcher, a movie about two seriously damaged protagonists, is its refusal to offer anything resembling a psycho-babble interpretation for the unusual circumstances we have witnessed. There is no over-arching tying up of unraveled cords as frequently occurs in movies when the creators don’t trust their audience to parse the subtext accurately. Instead, the screenwriters, director and cast have all done their jobs so expertly that we have understood what the characters have thought and felt without any verbal explanations.
The plot concerns the interaction between John duPont, an eccentric scion of one of America’s wealthiest families and Mark Schulz, an Olympic gold medal wrestler who leads a solitary and inauspicious life. Du Pont entices Schulz to live on his opulent estate where he will be the hired coach - assistant to John - for what the mogul hopes will be the US wrestling team, combining his passion for the sport with his equally patriotic fervor for America. Played by Steve Carell with facial prosthetics that have him resembling his own nickname of golden eagle, the character is predatory, elusive and taciturn, leaving us to rely mainly on his body language and his very controlled reactions to the people around him, most significantly his aged mother (Vanessa Redgrave). Channing Tatum plays Mark in an equally transformative role, his normally handsome head looking more Neanderthal than we would have imagined possible, fitting well with his inarticulate longings and feelings of betrayal. Mark Ruffalo is Dave, his older brother, also a champion wrestler, but one who has transitioned into successful adulthood with a family of his own, a job and paternal concern for his younger brother. The scenes in which the two brothers physically interact with their wrestling moves are poignantly revealing of what they cannot express to each other in words. Dave tries over and over again to get Mark to tell him what’s bothering him but the younger man is no more capable of self-analysis than Lenny in Of Mice and Men. Tensions escalate at the Foxcatcher facility after du Pont hires Dave to be in charge of preparing the team for the world championships and after several other pivotal events that lead to a startling conclusion. Since this is a story based on real people, I thought that many in the audience would already know how this unfolds but suffice it to say that a collective gasp, from myself included, proved me wrong.
Foxcatcher moves at a steady, quiet pace that brings its own tension in comparison with the much noisier soundtracks that we are used to hearing in most movies (Birdman, Whiplash to name two). There are some abrupt blackouts on screeen, along with some quick camera moves away from its main subject that also enhance our feeling that we are not on terra firma. In a way, the camera mimics the essence of wrestling - to pin one’s opponent to the ground by moves designed to upset his balance. Bennet Miller, the director and Frye and Futterman as screenwriters, have created a surprising and sensitive movie whose characters are brought memorably to life by actors revealing hidden depths to their talents, along with their new visual personae. Because the interpretations have wisely been left to us to explore, there is the added pleasure of discussing this movie with others who have seen it, an afterglow to insure the movie’s ongoing resonance.
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