Review: Foxcatcher

Getting the 2015 cinematic calendar off to an outstanding start is director Bennett 'Moneyball' Miller's Foxcatcher, a stirring exercise in brooding tension that provides an unsettling glimpse into the US class system and its connection with darkest recesses of the human psyche.

Based on real events, Foxcatcher details the ultimately tragic relationship between famed wrestling brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and their unlikely sponsor, eccentric multi-millionaire heir, John du Pont (Steve Carell). What begins as an almost paternal relationship between du Pont and Mark slowly turns into one of cruel psychological torment and pressure.

If like myself, and unaware of the true story behind the film then Foxcatcher is a film filled with surprises and unnerving twists and turns. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman's screenplay simmers from the onset, with Miller cranking up the tension and unease at every possible opportunity, crafting a bleak and brooding watch. The thematically rich Foxcatcher can be read as a portrait of the results of loneliness spurred from the harsh divides in societal classes. Du Pont is an isolated eccentric, living with his frail mother (an outstanding Vanessa Redgrave) who seems to disapprove of his general being. On the parallel side, Mark is a struggling wrestling champ feeling isolated by his brother's cosy family life and his struggle to make a conventional living. These men are joined by a twisted tale of obsession and mental manipulation that results in a gripping watch.

Frye and Dan Futterman's screenplay is brought to life thanks to majestic performances from Carell and Tatum. Carell's du Pont is a chilling presence and whilst generous and in awe of Mark initially, gradually becomes cold, obsessive, and controlling towards the young wrestler. Scenes of du Pont's torchlight shining into Mark's cottage at night, or pinned-down wrestling moves that seem to linger slightly too long, help craft the brooding vibe that du Pont is capable of something quite terrible. Carell's icy mannerisms, awkward physical motions and malevolent demeanour help present a transformation like no other from the actor. Interestingly there are grounds to read into the homoerotic tendencies of du Pont (his Mother's disapproval of his 'lifestyle', his obsessive relationship with Mark) ensuring this is a thematically rich watch. Given the unsettled build-up in Foxcatcher's narrative, it is no surprise that the film's ending packs a brutal, gut-punching blow.

Tatum is equally magnificent as the wrestler crushed by both intense physical and mental pressures to initially please, then gradually deter du Pont. Supporting turns from Mark Ruffalo who is unsurprisingly excellent and the always remarkable Vanessa Redgrave breathe further life into this bleak true crime chiller.

Thanks to truly immersive performances from Carell and Tatum, a simmering narrative drenched in dread from Frye and Futterman, and Miller's bleak, chilling direction, Foxcatcher is essential viewing.

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