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Foxcatcher

Year: 2014
Production Co: Annapurna Pictures
Director: Bennett Miller
Writer: E Max Frye/Dan Futterman
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall

Foxcatcher has the same high prestige gloss as Bennett Miller's Moneyball. It's a similar story that's less about sport than some of the personalities who participated in it and made it a crutch for areas of their life found wanting.

But the similarities end there. While Moneyball was a gripping yarn, a hero's journey as an outsider sticks to his guns for something nobody but him believes in, Foxcatcher has no such narrative impetus. As a story it's flat, inert and limps along with little arc and even less point.

To a lot of people it'll be about the characters rather than the story, and with the acting getting all the attention maybe that was intentional. Unfortunately – and despite all the praise you've heard about Steve Carell as John du Pont (and it's all true) - threads of the characterisations are picked up and dropped just as quickly.

Even though Carell, with Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as champion wrestlers and brothers Mark and David Schultz, all fill out richly scripted roles well, they're just too hard to pin down in the same way the story is.

As the egomaniacal and (as it turned out) psychopathic du Pont, Carell – hidden under the heavy makeup and prosthetic nose that's getting all the attention – plays such a range of weird personality tics that are never really explored it renders his character completely impenetrable.

You've never got any idea what he's thinking or what drives him apart from fairly obvious acceptance issues from his frosty relationship with his mother, the family matriarch. It makes every weird behaviour he exhibits just another oddity that doesn't add up to a whole.

If there's any throughline, it's his Dr Crippen-like demeanour. He's a soft-spoken guy who seems to exhibit as much social grace as a high functioning autistic. It doesn't look like he could hurt a fly but he exudes a sense of bristling hate and violence just waiting to find an outlet (and if you know the real story this is based on, you'll know how that turns out).

When the younger Schultz is running out of money despite being an Olympic gold medal winner, the current captain of the old money industrial family approaches him with a proposal. du Pont, a wrestling fan, will house Mark at his country estate with all the facilities he needs and a specially selected team to lead America to victory in the next Olympics.

Mark, facing his own issues after feeling like he's living in his more successful brother's shadow, comes to live on the rambling farm that gives the team and the movie its name, training under du Pont's dubious tutelage. Thanks to whatever cracked psyche du Pont's dealing with, you'll spend the whole time waiting for him to offer to adopt, murder or make a pass at the younger man, the overtones of his inappropriate regard for Mark careening between sexual, fatherly and hostile without warning.

When du Pont finally convinces David to join the team as well - having gone to great pains to tell Mark they don't need his more talented brother - it reveals just how disposable Mark is and how the Olympic glory du Pont is chasing might not be about Mark or even David but du Pont himself.

It's shot with an even, steady and confident hand, it just feels like it spends the whole time getting ready to reveal something that never comes.

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