As a sports movie Foxcatcher is a curious creation.
With a title that for some reason suggests an interstellar space epic, the plot instead revolves around the relationship between American Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, hewn from granite) and reclusive billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell, sporting a prosthetic schnozz worthy of Sam the Eagle) in the years following Schultz’s gold medal at the 1984 games.
Far from the oil and pageantry of heels and baby faces in the WWE, the grappling involved here is deadly serious. Schultz is a dedicated athlete with a simmering case of resentment at the lack of recognition and funding excellence his field has brought him.
A summons to du Pont’s Pennsylvania base at Foxcatcher Farm ensues. Munitions wholesaler to the military, du Pont, a monotone social misfit, wishes to fund and front the wrestling programme for Team USA for upcoming events.
Highs and lows soon follow, with the added complication of Tatum’s brother, trainer and impossibly nice guy Dave (Mark Ruffalo) thrown into the mix.
This all combines into what is fundamentally a cold, cheerless entertainment, which has blatant Oscar-bait (the movie fared well at Cannes with Bennett Miller winning best director) written all over it in the shape of Carell’s nasal and childlike benefactor.
Miller’s previous offering, 2011’s Moneyball, took a similarly detached approach to a sporting theme. That picture eschewed the standard sporting movies against all odds, bombast in favour of a tale of statistics, so Foxcatcher’s sterilised world-view shouldn’t come as a complete surprise.
Carell and Ruffalo (in a career playing nice guys, his supernaturally agreeable Dave Schultz is as close as the movie comes to having a heart) are both superb, while Tatum acquits himself well enough without pushing his usual gruff persona too far from the comfort zone.
The movie is based on a true story, but has taken understandable liberties with history (as Moneyball did also) in forcing a dramatic narrative, most notably with regard to timelines. Unfortunately the film as a whole comes across as a sort of Karate Kid for grown ups, but bereft of any real charm it qualifies as a rather soulless, depressing experience.
There’s little wrong with Foxcatcher, but there isn’t much to recommend it either.
Best watched in the glummest of moods.
Foxcatcher is in cinemas nationwide January 9th.