Foxcatcher, from the director of Moneyball and Capote, is essentially trying to be David O. Russell’s Oscar winning The Fighter. Yet it simply doesn’t have the same calibre of acting talent to pull it off.
As with that other sports movie, this is a biographical drama of brotherly love. Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play brothers Mark and David Schultz: the former an Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler, the latter his revered trainer. The competitive nature between them is palpable in the early stages. One particular training scene perfectly mirrors their relationship – it begins tenderly enough but gradually becomes more aggressive and violent.
Mark seeks to escape the shadow of his older brother and is easily lured to the Foxcatcher estate by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his speeches of honour and patriotism. Du Pont is desperate to coach a world-class wrestling team with Mark at the head; moreover, he longs for the respect of his disapproving mother (a scene stealing Vanessa Redgrave). Soon du Pont’s manipulative nature and destructive lifestyle take the fore, dragging both brothers into his corrupt world.
Du Pont is an utterly loathsome and unsympathetic character, living at home with his overbearing mother who treats him like a child. A proud man and drunk on power, his clearly Republican views manifest as extreme jingoism. He spends his money on a US army tank and surrounds himself, like a president, with white walls and trophies. He even demands to be known as ‘Eagle’, with a beak-like nose to match. Yet Carell struggles with the demands of the character and is almost impossible to take seriously with such ridiculous prosthetics. The Psycho-esque relationship with his mother is also under-explored.
Tatum, meanwhile, is significantly lacking in acting chops. He’s well known for his physical roles, whether dancing, stripping or, here, wrestling and is clearly trying to follow in the footsteps of his Magic Mike co-star Matthew McConaughey. Yet for most of the film he simply lumbers around the screen like a gorilla, all mumbled words, jutted chin and heavy limbs. Only Ruffalo brings warmth to the film as family man David, yet even he (as with the other characters) suffers from a lack of character development that ultimately leaves the film flat.
No amount of self-congratulatory hugging and back clapping can heighten Foxcatcher beyond melodramatic bromance. Such abhorrent characters may be based in fact, but reading the history books would be more entertaining than this soulless piece of film.
Watch: Foxcatcher screens at the London Film Festival, with general release in the UK in January 2015.