Fantastic Mr Fox! Its foreboding tone will pin you to your seat

Siblings Mark (Tatum) and David Schultz (Ruffalo) are an Olympic wrestling duo who receive an offer to join a team sponsored by a mysterious multimillionaire, John E Du Pont (Carrell). The 1988 games in Seoul are around the corner and in America, unlike many other countries, Olympic athletes receive no government funding – so a sponsorship deal can often make their career. Mark leaves to immediately take up the offer from ‘Team Foxcatcher’, while David is more reluctant to uproot his wife and kids.

Du Pont (French for prick)
Essentially the film runs on competitive engines of power and love: Mark Schultz has little to show for his sporting successes, with much of the credit being shared with – or going to – his older brother David. While David is supportive and understanding, he lives for his children and wife (Miller), while Mark lives alone eating packet noodles. 

Enter then John Du Pont with a vast familial wealth to help Mark strike out on his own. Beneath his audacious generosity however, Du Pont is crippled by loneliness and a lack of love – not least from the stoney-faced Du Pont matriarch (Redgrave) who is seemingly ignorant of her son’s attempts to win her approval. As Du Pont spends more time together with Mark, he sniffs out Mark’s yearning to move out from under his brother’s shadow – and exploits that by attempting to divide and conquer.

Comics make the best creeps
Come awards season, Carrell will no doubt earn plaudits for his eerie transformation into Du Pont – with the aid of a prosthetic beak, he not only bears an uncanny resemblance to the real-life figure (if you have no knowledge of the events that inspired this film, I strongly recommend saving the googling until after seeing it), but he fully immerses himself in the role. 

It’s a win for any actor, especially one so associated with comedy, to have the opportunity to tackle a role such as this, but for Carrell to have disappeared so convincingly into this complex, frightening figure – it is a real triumph. Like Bruno Ganz’s Hitler in Downfall, he’s a monster rendered human and 

Major jump for Tatum
Channing Tatum, last seen in screwball comedy sequel 22 Jump St, might be accused of working too hard to earn his drama stripes here. Physically, he’s every inch the athlete, but there’s an early sense that his ape-gait and nigh-on knuckle dragging is a little try-hard. 

Fortunately Tatum brings the chops where they count. His muscular Schultz, fresh-faced and hopeful, creates the perfect dissonance when paired with Carrell’s silver-haired, visibly tortured Du Pont. 

Of this triangle though, it is Ruffalo whose quiet performance as Mark’s brother David that effortlessly impresses. He brings a perfectly pitched naturalism to what is easily the lesser of the three roles – in quantitative terms – but most likely it will be David’s nuanced, caring manner with his younger brother that you’ll take 

Minimal dialogue, 
maximum emotion

Their routine intimacy during training sessions feature minimal dialogue and surreal physical exchanges – but these moments and the measured wisdom with which David handles his younger brother’s frustrated outbursts are touching and truthful. 

Foxcatcher is a tightly-wound drama of interlocking fears and wants. Soaked in shadows, it crackles along with deadly precision – and the foreboding tone will stay with you long after the credits roll.

Dir: Bennet Miller; US drama, 2014, 129 mins; Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Premiered January 15
Playing Nationwide

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