This is my third attempt to discuss Foxcatcher, the recent true crime film that also happens to be my final stop on the 2014 Channing Tatum Initiative. My feelings on Foxcatcher are conflicted enough so as to make it nearly impossible for me to convey them without falling into a rambling pit. But hey, third time’s the charm, yeah?
Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It recounts the events leading up to a murder. The film is well written, the cinematography is gripping and the performances, particularly those by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, are engaging. Foxcatcher is by no means a bad movie. I’m just not sure I understand why it’s a movie.
In my mind there’s something of an unspoken understanding between an audience and a filmmaker when it comes to films “based on a true story,” particularly when that true story is tragic in nature. The understanding being that the filmmaker is given permission to utilize or exploit (depending on just how cynical we want to get) a real life tragedy in order to put forward for consideration some potential truth. 12 Years a Slave used the story of Solomon Northrup’s enslavement to highlight a sickness in American history that is more and more often overlooked or downplayed. Captain Phillips used the hostage situation on the Maersk Alabama to highlight a glaring juxtaposition between the might and affluence of the Western World and the sheer desperation of the Third World. The recently released Imitation Game uses the life of Alan Turing to recount the life of Alan Turing, a scientist whose achievements and prosecution are both perhaps not as well-known as they should be.
With these examples in mind I again posit that I’m not sure I understand why the tragedy at the murder of Foxcatcher has been adapted into a film.
I’ve come up with a few answers on my own but they all feel like I’m reaching, assigning a reason for a works existence after it already exists, rather than discovering the reason why the work was brought into existence in the first place. Perhaps Foxcatcher is meant to highlight the disparity between rich and poor and how easily we overlook the former using the latter as playthings. Maybe it’s something of a cautionary tale regarding undiagnosed mental illness. One of the parties involved has stated that the story highlights the lengths to which American Olympians had to go to match the training regiments of Olympians in other countries. But the film doesn’t seem to lean in to any of those thesis statements.
As near as I can figure the events depicted in Foxcatcher were adapted to film because someone thought it’d make a good movie. And they’re not wrong. If I didn’t know Foxcatcher was based on a true story I’d more than likely be singing an entirely different tune. But Foxcatcher is based on a true story. It’s based on a murder. And while I’m not saying it specifically sets out to exploit a murder for entertainment or ruling out the distinct possibility that I’m just being difficult and don’t get it, I ultimately found the film conflicted and problematic at best.