I’ve been sitting here contemplating this film have just left the theatre an hour or so ago, and I must admit initially I was at a loss. Why? Because it took me quite some time to identify what does NOT work in this absolute marvel of a film. There are so many things that work brilliantly well that any perceived flaws took quite some time to appear in my consciousness.
First the particulars: Foxcatcher basically stars three highly transformed men, and one ‘lady’ (errr more on her later). It’s the story of Mark and David Schultz, played masterfully by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. John DuPont, eerily and magically played by Steve Carell. And Madame Jean DuPont, played by the always indefatigable Vanessa Redgrave.
John DuPont wants to be the Captain and Coach of the gold medal winning US Men’s wrestling team and he’s relying heavily on Mark and David to do this. This man has such a desire, such an intense hunger for gold that he would stop at pretty much nothing to obtain it.
Let me just stop right here momentarily to catch my breath and make a statement, if Steve Carell doesn’t scare you in real life after seeing him in this film, there’s something deeply wrong with the both of you! Whew! Ok onward….
The INTENSE and highly skilled transformations of Steve, Channing, and Mark into John, Mark, and David. This film is going to win some awards for makeup and costumes if it already hasn’t. But the scary part is it’s NOT just makeup. There’s almost a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde transformation in EVERY key player in this film, including demeanor, stance, and speech flow/patterns.
You find yourself tripped up quite frequently, have to remember that that’s Steve Carell, that that’s Mark Ruffalo, and yes that’s Channing Tatum and Vanessa Redgrave but…..there are such frequent moments of disbelief that you almost want to pull up IMDB constantly to ensure you’re in the right theatre, screening the right film because it’s just that sublime, the transformations.
They’re not subdued in any manner, they’re SCARY as such. There is a new level of admiration and respect that you find yourself pleased with bestowing upon the cast. It’s indeed well-deserved and once you can finally reconcile that those are indeed the actors you thought were acting in this film, the film is ended.
The mode of John, as tasked to Steve Carell is deadpan, dead on, and so even keel all at the same time. It’s very difficult to ascertain what John is feeling, because he’s a king of sarcastic banter and yet you find yourself warming up to him before his volcano blows.
You are shown glimpses of his childhood, you’re also shown that the man who has everything appears to have nothing. There’s no sense of achievement, no sense of fulfillment and he initially easily garners your sympathy, you empathy. The way that he handles his staff, the way that he approaches each scenario like he owns everything and then his circumstances, he interactions remind you there are many things he can take no ownership of and it’s clear how that frustrates him deeply.
Mark; he’s stoic. He’s an Olympic gold medalist and one of the things that this film does very well is set you up solidly, as to why a man as skilled as Mark, can be so easily withdrawn, so easily solemn, and so easily manipulated as John is so tongue in cheek at doing.
There’s a theme in this film that Channing Tatum as Mark does such a phenomenal job of conveying and that John seems receive that torch and continue you on with it. It’s about being at your lowest. Mark is at an EXTREMELY low point in his life, as is John, but even their lows while different, are eerily similar and that is where their connection is formed from.
The other brother. The one everyone seems to respect and admire, the stand-up guy who is always looking out for others including Mark of course. The one everyone seems not only to look up to as a mentor, as a desired friend, as an ally, as the shining light. This is David. He and Mark are both gold medal winners and yet he seems to have gotten the luck of the draw so to speak. He’s the IT man, and this leaves Mark feeling highly inadequate and this so susceptible to John’s folly.
Make no mistake, Mark and David are brothers in arms, and yet the differences between them are so poignant and so well displayed you almost find yourself willing their dynamic to be different. You want things to be better between them. You want people to SEEK Mark like the see David. You want that FOR THEM.
There are metaphors in this film that if you’re not careful, you may overlook, or not see how they relate to the calamity that is the life on John DuPont. Things like, the horse, the trophies (and yes there are many), the military weapons all over the compound.
The backdrop that is Valley Forge while a beautiful, peaceful place to live and of course film, provides such an interesting juxtaposition to the chaos that is the hellhole that is John Dupont’s life. And no, this being that hell hole will never provide the excuse as to why John lives the way he lives, why he acts the way he acts, and ultimately why he completely lets what little foothold he has on life slither away. And that brings me to what does NOT work.
What Does Not Work:
As I stated previously, this took a while. There are two things that a great a film as this is, as great a performance that all actors presented us with, that simply do NOT work. The connection between John and Lady DuPont is unfortunately not one of them. Yes they are aloof when it comes to one another. And yes, their interactions do a great job of showcasing just how dysfunctional their relationship is, but even will all that, it isn’t enough.
Their lack communication, their lack of affection, their lack of affinity for each other, rings hollow. It’s all too easy to lay the burden of John’s folly upon Lady DuPont, but it doesn’t hold up. I suspect that’s because many of the people who spent their days around these two, learned the skills necessary to tune their dysfunction out. In other words see no evil….well you get the idea.
And therein lies the second issue. The WHY. There isn’t enough of a trigger, enough reasoning, enough insanity on screen to explain the WHY of it all. You find yourself wanting desperately to say, yeah I understand exactly WHY he did that. And it’s so close you find yourself at a loss that stays with you long after the credits have rolled. You’re like, that can NOT be all of it. There has to be more than the story. There has to be some sort of justification for such heartbreak, such tragedy.
Sure, what you see onscreen is full of fire and full of exuberance. It’s just not, the smoking gun (ironically enough) necessary to explain what brought all this to fruition. Still, even with that, I cannot express how much I enjoyed this film.
It’s a definite #MUSTSEE if only that gain an understanding that Foxcatcher Farms is The Emerald City and John DuPont is indeed the wizard. And we all know what we must do when we see Emerald City right? We’re off to see the wizard!!!!
Joyll Cambridge hails from Manchester, United Kingdom and currently lives in New York, New York. She loves all things movies, fitness and swirling. To read Joyll’s personal blog at The Humanist Exec, click here.
Joyll joined our team as our Resident Movie Reviewer. To contact Joyll or request a review of a specific movie, email her at SheCritiques@TheSwirlWorld.com.
Copyright ©2014 Michelle Matthews Calloway, ASwirlGirl™, The Swirl World™, The Swirl World Podcast™, All rights reserved. Photo of Joyll Cambridge used with permission. Movie poster from the movie “Foxcatcher” obtained from IMDB.