Tuesday 21 October 2014

LFF 2014:

There's still no sign of the long-awaited Big Daddy vs Giant Haystacks film powerslamming into cinemas any time soon, so in the meantime wrestling fans are going to have to make do with Foxcatcher, a true story even more alarming than that of a 26-stone man called Shirley who wore a leotard for a living. In this tale, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo play Mark and Dave Schultz, two past-their-prime Olympian brothers recruited by billionaire oddball John du Pont (Steve Carell) to bring prestige to his latest vanity project: his own wrestling team.

And that, essentially, is it. For the best part of 130 minutes, we watch these three men repeatedly come together and drift apart, their relationships with each other rippling and shifting like Big Daddy's mantits. If you know the true story of du Pont and the Schultzes, you'll know there's a little more to it, but if you don't, good. Keep it that way. Because Foxcatcher's appeal lies in its woozy fug of unease; the sense that somehow, somewhere, something's not quite right, and waiting for it to show itself is half the fun.

Quarter of the fun is in watching Tatum and Ruffalo nailing the brothers' mildly antagonistic relationship with apparently minimal effort: their first scene together, a practice session at older brother Dave (Ruffles)'s run-down, sweat-stained gym, is a complete and thorough portrait of a frayed fraternal bond told completely wordlessly. Wrestling holds become awkward hugs, and the physicality of the sport provides an excuse for barely-concealed feelings to bubble violently to the surface. The remaining 25% of the fun is trying to gauge which bits of Steve Carell's face are real and which are rubber.
The eyeballs are definitely rubber.

Foxcatcher is not a thrilling film. It isn't punctuated by electrifying, Raging Bull-esque fights, and its moments of high drama are few and far between. And frankly that would be a huge problem, were it not for its immensely watchable leads. Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo are incredible here: before long you forget Carell's prosthetic conk and his history of patchy comedies, while Tatum's cauliflower ears, Don Corleone jaw and permanently furrowed brow tell you all you need to know about his character. Ruffles, in a less showy role, is the champ though: slouching through the film like an avuncular ape and sporting a remarkable hairpiece, he's barely recognisable, and convincingly sells the elder Schultz's woes and concerns about his younger brother's new life with du Pont.

Familial connections, both real and manufactured, are at Foxcatcher's dark heart. A spoilt child with severe Mommy issues, John du Pont attempts to buy himself a better family just like his overbearing mother bought his childhood friends. His efforts to become a father figure to Mark Schultz are painfully awkward: the one time du Pont calls Schultz "son", in front of an audience of cash-stuffed associates, is a pointedly graceless episode. And there's no such thing as a happy family, even when you pay for it, as everybody eventually discovers. These are the themes that lend a tragic air to proceedings; air that grows heavy with the threat of an inevitable thunderstorm.

Slow-burning and brooding with an indistinct menace, Foxcatcher takes its sweet time telling its story. Whether the payoff is worth the time director Bennett Miller spends on the buildup will be hotly debated, but don't be mistaken: Foxcatcher is all about the buildup. If that sounds like a slog, then the performances alone are enough to recommend it. And if we can lock Tatum and Ruffalo down for Daddy and Haystacks, then everything will have been worthwhile.

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