Last night I went to watch Foxcatcher, and it was really fucking good. I was surprised to find my boyfriend was the only male at the screening – I think there were a few giggly ladies just waiting to see a glimpse of that man candy. I get it – I also go to see every movie Steve Carell is in. But Foxcatcher has intrigued me for a while now, and despite knowing how it all goes down in the end, I was still so excited to see how it played out. Before I continue, I think it’s probably quite important to say that there are major spoilers in this. Okay? So now I can’t be held responsible for you being angry all day. In the reviews I’ve read for the film, there’s a lot of praise for Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, but not much for Channing Tatum. Carell is brilliant, you can’t deny it. He exudes an uncomfortable energy that is so palpable, even in scenes in which he is just in the background. Mark Ruffalo plays the nice guy, which he does very well. But Tatum is underrated. I remember watching Step Up five years ago and thinking that that guy was going nowhere. But Tatum has exercised his dramatic chops, and he’s done enormously well since to escape that awful film which is also my guilty pleasure. Something I noticed almost immediately in Bennett Miller’s creation is how integral the theme of animals is to the story. There are obvious notations like the taxidermy looming over rooms in du Pont’s house, or his mother’s prize winning horses. But the implication runs far deeper than this. For example, Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a pro wrestler who finds it hard to express his emotions in words. At the beginning of the film, we see him sparring with his brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Their emotions are shown through the way the tussle, rather than through talking. They are ape-like (something Mark is actually called later in the film) in the way they express themselves. The way they grab each other round the neck is ape-like. Anger for Mark comes in the form of a head butt and happiness shown through a rough, haphazard hug. Their natural stance is the same: top-heavy and hunched with a stiff tread, arms poised as if ready for attack. They rut on the mat like two stags, fighting for respect. In his relationship with John du Pont, however, Mark is the dog – the trusty companion whom du Pont pays to be “man’s best friend”. He tells Mark that as a child, his mother paid another boy to be his friend, which is a moment he essentially recreates with Mark, but under a different guise. As Mark accepts du Pont’s money to become coach and wrestler in a team destined for Olympic greatness, he immediately becomes a servant to du Pont’s needs. At one point, du Pont even orders Mark to “stay,” which he obliges. Du Pont insists that Mark calls him “Eagle,” or “Golden Eagle,” – an emblem of American greatness, cementing further du Pont’s stifling idea of patriotism – in just one of several points of comical absurdity. Mark agrees, but even he finds it hard to suppress a smile at the strangeness of his request.
Of course, once you see Carell’s transformation, it’s so easy to see the bird-like resemblance. But through his actions he replicates those of an eagle. He circles the team in practice like they’re prey. Du Pont’s point of view is often voyeuristic; watching Mark running through the grounds from the window in a solitary room in his house, or surveying Mark and Dave from the back bench at a match. (On the subject of birds, it is also interesting to note that du Pont is a keen birdwatcher, and gives Mark a book that he wrote on birdwatching. Mark is told to stay away from du Pont’s mother, so when he spots her tending to her prize-winning horses, he watches her through binoculars for a moment, like she herself is a rare bird.) If the wrestling team is a pack of dogs, then their prized possession, their fox to catch, is the world championships. But there is a struggle for power, a struggle for top-dog status. Mark is initially in charge of the team, but du Pont replaces him with Dave when he finds Mark inadequate, which upsets him. Du Pont considers himself a coach and mentor to all, on par with Dave’s abilities as head coach, but he is merely a benefactor to the operation. His desire to be in the wolf pack alienates him further. Ultimately du Pont finds he cannot manipulate everything using his fortune, and so he shoots Dave, like a dog in the snow. The story was so bleak and depressing, but it was so beautifully shot. Everything was expressed so perfectly and a lot of thought had obviously gone into bringing out meaning in every scene. Totally recommend it if you can keep the image of Michael Scott out of your head.