Foxcatcher ★★★★½

Have you ever been pinned down by someone and, despite all your resistance, find that you can't free yourself? That no matter how much you strain against your opponent, you're trapped and at the mercy of another? That awful feeling is what Foxcatcher is about. It's what the characters do to each other - literally and figuratively - and it's also what director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) does to his audience.

Based on the true story of an Olympic gold-medalist wrestler and his bizarre association with deranged multimillionaire John du Pont, Foxcatcher is a frightening examination of the events that foreshadowed a cold-blooded murder.

Channing Tatum is a naive wrestler with a natural ability but no self-esteem, who lives in the shadow of his famous brother (Mark Ruffalo) whom he loves, hates, resents and admires in equal amounts. John du Pont (Steve Carrell) is a creepy eccentric who uses his excessive wealth to exert control over Tatum's life and career. The film explores the unhealthy power-play that developed between these three men which ultimately led to disaster.

Tatum and Ruffalo are arrestingly good. In the opening scene we see these two brothers training, and their violent, tactile ballet is like a running commentary on their entire relationship. The familial head banging, the push and pull, the swoops and glides, the momentary exertions of strength, the lightness and intensity are deftly translatable and, like any close relationship, move beyond language. Tatum is skilled but lacks insight - his talent is a mystery to him that he fails to understand or examine. Ruffalo, on the other hand, knows the theory and craft of the sport and possesses the necessary confidence of a champion.

Steve Carrell is unrecognisable as du Pont. His prosthetic nose and fragmented manner of speaking immediately peg him as a born loser. He was the strange, sheltered kid at school interested in bird-watching, and the stigma of those unseen early years are perceptible. He's the kind of man who fails to open his mouth without leaving a palpable chill in the air. His inordinate wealth can't buy him a shred of the wit, skill or charisma of Ruffalo. In a horrifying moment, Carrell asks him, 'Do you have a problem with me?' What he's really asking is, 'Why does it come so easily to you? Why is it you have what it takes to be great - to be admired and respected - and I don't?'

Unsettling and tense, Foxcatcher is also authentically messy and harrowing. When the blood finally runs, we don't get the feeling we were being steered to this point via a series of contrivances like the wildly-overhyped Nightcrawler. In that film Gyllenhaal tampers with a fellow nightcrawler's breaks and films the carnage in a scene that I suppose substitutes for irony if you're an adolescent. The psychological complexities of Foxcatcher hit us in a darker and more uncertain place. Once the blood has spilled, we're allowed to wonder who is really to blame, and in what measure the fault really lies.

Foxcatcher breathes and pulsates with the ambiguity and ugliness of human relationships. Bennett recognises that life is emotional, often frightening, but always untidy and subject to interpretation. It's the kind of movie we wrestle with in the dark long after it's finished.

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