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Foxcatcher. Brillant? Yes. Enjoyable?…

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If someone were to ask you what your primary reason for going to the cinema was, what would you say? I’d expect many to immediately pipe up with for fun, enjoyment, perhaps escapism and judging by the success of The Babadook it could even be to be terrified. You lot are weird.

But, I’m certain that most people wouldn’t say to watch a film that isn’t really enjoyable that makes you feel queasy. Yet, sometimes, through word-of-mouth or personal interest you see a movie that makes you feel just that. And no amount of brilliant performances or stand-out thrills will save you from the feeling that the time could have been better spent – like, say, relaxing!

It won’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this little soliloquy of mine applies to my experience of Foxcatcher. This movie has all the makings of a great ride and is, undoubtedly, an Oscar contender. It has a successful and talented director at the helm, coming off the back of multiple successes, in Bennett Miller (Moneyball), and a hand-picked cast of Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo. Not one of these saves Foxcatcher from the relentless sustained threat it provides. Perhaps it is the story which is at fault, which may not translate as well outside of the U.S. Foxcatcher is based on a true story (although Miller took liberties if Wikipedia is any measure of accuracy). Set in the Eighties, Tatum plays Mark Schultz, an Olympic-winning wrestler whose life beyond the mats is empty and sad, leaving him at a personal and professional tipping point. His brother Dave (Ruffalo), in comparison,  has the support of a loving wife (an extremely underused Sienna Miller) and kids. As they train in their gym for the upcoming World Championships Tatum comes across Carell’s lonely billionaire – let’s call him Du Pont. A strange child-like man without friends or guidance, holed up in a gargantuan estate – it’s a fairytale depiction of a nightmarish life. Du Pont has his own familial issues with a distant, odd mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and any number of psychological problems. But what he doesn’t lack is cold, hard cash which he wants to spend on sponsoring, and ultimately running Tatum’s wrestling team under his own Foxcatcher brand. By agreeing to sponsor and eventually train Mark in a gym constructed on the Du Pont estate, an unlikely alliance is forged between the two outsiders. It is the cracks that start to show when Dave joins the team, that make Foxcatcher the uncomfortable viewing experience.

If I stop whining for a moment, I can tell you that the performances are wonderful. Carell’s Du Pont is an Andy Serkis-like transformation (bit of prosthetics here, a little hunchback there). He drips in bitterness – a cold, scary and utterly mental screen presence. Awards will be sticking to him like glue, come 2015.  SinceLittle Miss Sunshine I thought he thrived as a misanthrope over a clown, and he is absolutely chilling here. But for me, this film is all about Ruffalo. His character brings warmth and sense to a world that is imploding. Tatum’s impression of an oaf is spot on, but there isn’t much more to say. Ruffalo is possibly my favourite actor of all time, so real and subtle in his delivery, and so believable during the wrestling scenes. He and Carell shine here and Miller builds to an incredible denouement, reminding me of The Shining in its isolation. This film is not your average sports movie, something Miller excels at.

As I was so completely mentally affected by Foxcatcher, this may be a sign of the strength of the movie. Fans of Steve McQueen and Paul Thomas Anderson will enjoy an ecstasy of anxiety throughout. But truthfully, I found it so uncomfortable I was desperate to leave. If level of discomfort is your measuring stick then go and see Foxcatcher. If you don’t see it, you’ll miss something unique, but you’ll sleep better at night. It’s your choice.

Foxcatcher is out in the UK on 9th January 2015.

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