Alternative depictions of psychopaths seems to be a running theme in film recently, with the disturbing Nightcrawler a few months ago and now in the run up to Oscar season we have Foxcatcher. I was having a conversation with a friend a while ago about the idea of psychopaths and how they’re now usually axe-wielding maniacs escaped from an asylum but in reality are just normal people, void of real emotion who use others as pawns for their own selfish gain, and the idea that they live among us is more much terrifying than any slasher horror movie. I think it is this premise that makes Foxcatcher so incredibly uneasy. From the first scene we see brothers Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark (Channing Tatum) Schwartz wrestling in a raw animalistic way; bumbling yet extremely precise and strong. We brace ourselves for the inevitable impact and yet the tension is almost unbearable. This initial wrestle is a metaphor for the relationship and course of the entire film. Anybody who has read up on the inspiration of this movie knows what is going to happen and we wait patiently for the pay off we know is coming, and yet the wait is agonising, fumbling and intense.

Steve Carell’s portrayal of millionaire and gold medalist wannabe John du Pont is excellent and deeply disturbing. His movements are unpredictable and awkward and we feel and incredible sense of unease whenever he is on screen. Nothing is honest, nothing is trustworthy and we wait on the edge of our seats for him to snap. John du Pont is a man who always gets what he wants because he has the money and therefore the power to get it, an interesting comment on what is supposed to be a fair game chance at success for non-professionals in Olympic competition. Those who have seen Carell’s performance in The Way Way Back know that the guy is perfectly capable of stepping outside of his comedy comfort zone into playing as arsehole, but his portrait of a true villain in Foxcatcher is astounding and definitely worthy of the Oscar nomination he has received for this role. 

Foxcatcher slowly, sometimes painfully slowly, depicts the subtle way du Pont manipulates those around him into bending to his will. At times we feel sorry for him. As a person he is pathetic, no friends, no family, only those whom he has paid to be around him. But at the same time we are too scared to laugh at his position. Director Bennett Miller expertly positions his audience alongside the two tragic brothers in that sense of utter powerlessness and the way in gradually creeps up upon us is so subtle that we, like the Schwartz brothers, don’t realise really what is happening until it is too late.

What helps maintain the undeniable tension and unease throughout the film is the expert sound editing. From the intense breathing and shuffling of the gym mat when the guys are wrestling to the frustrated self-harm inflicted by Mark Schwartz, each sound is individual and purposeful, amplified for maximum impact to the point where we flinch from the realism. I am very surprised that this film hasn’t been nominated for Best Sound Editing at the Oscars.

Although snubbed in the sound department, Foxcatcher has been identified for its excellent use of prosthetics. Especially when casting actors such as Steve Carell, whom we are used to watching in a more lighthearted setting, the use of prosthetics can be crucial in maintaining the illusion of these characters being brought to life on screen. In the age of high definition good make-up and prosthetics are harder and harder to achieve because the camera is so unforgiving. The make-up in Foxcatcher is amazing and no matter how hard I looked it remained flawless. At some points it was a little distracting for me but that is my own fault for trying to hard to look.

Foxcatcher is a tragedy and an incredibly frustrating film to watch as we see these people who would likely have achieved their goal of winning Olympic gold have their dreams shattered by a selfish, paranoid psychopath who was so scared of not getting what he wanted for once in his life that it took control over him. Foxcatcher is an incredibly slow paced movie, at some points uncomfortable to watch because of the pacing, but the pay off is so worth the hours of torment leading up to it.