London Film Festival: Channing Tatum and Steve Carell excel in a psychological thriller based on a true story
Not everyone will know the true story on which Foxcatcher is based, although you may quickly guess the direction in which the film is heading. Bennett Miller's third narrative feature – after Capote and Moneyball – is a finely crafted subversion of the road-to-glory sports movie set in the world of professional wrestling. It turns a story of physical prowess inwards to explore the psychological torment and personal motivations behind a very unusual athlete coach dynamic. The dramatic nature of the real-life 1980s events powers the film toward a different kind of ending, and dictates that it assume the guise of a thriller.
Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a gold-medal-winning Olympian who's nevertheless existing unhappily in the shadow of his more affable and successful older brother David (Mark Ruffalo), not least as he has yet to find domestic happiness or financial security. His fortunes seem to improve when he's invited to the home of eccentric billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), an unsettlingly still and stunted character who becomes Mark's generous sponsor and comically inexpert wrestling coach, and who is desperate to prove himself to his haughty, disappointed mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave).
There are bursts of humour but Foxcatcher adopts an ominous air from the outset, enhanced by silken, yet subtly sinister cinematography from Greig Fraser. Miller coaxes career-best performances from Tatum and Carell and there's fine support from Ruffalo; he's a director that knows the power of an awkward moment or a pregnant pause, letting the performers generate the tension and keeping directorial exuberance to a minimum.
The role of Mark is tailor-made for Tatum, a platform for him to display the breadth of his talent: the former dancer brings a dynamic athleticism and the requisite bulk to the part and convincingly communicates the internal struggle of a taciturn man. But it's hard to take your eyes off Carell, compellingly creepy as someone who's grown up under a withering gaze, and whose effortful self-containment is undermined by that dangerous flicker in his eyes.
Screened on Thu 16 Oct and Fri 17 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2014. General release from Fri 9 Jan 2015.