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Foxcatcher Seizes the Complexity of a True Story on Film

  • November 13, 2014

Based on true events, Foxcatcher is a rich and moving story of brotherly love, misguided loyalty, and the emotional bankruptcy that can accompany great wealth and power. Bennett Miller, director of Capote and Moneyball, spent years researching this complex story. His fourth turn at the helm has already garnered a Best Director Award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Miller’s commitment to conveying the gravity and intricacy of the story led him to director of photography Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS (Snow White and the Huntsman, Killing Them Softly, Let Me In).

The story follows Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who is struggling in obscurity and poverty in Wisconsin when he is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to his lavish estate to form a team and to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Schultz seizes the opportunity, eager to step out of the shadow of his revered older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), a prominent wrestling coach and Gold Medal winner himself.

The dynamic between Schultz and du Pont deepens as Mark embraces his benefactor as a father figure. But du Pont's mercurial personality and psychological gameplay begin to weigh heavily on Mark, undermining his abilities on the mat. When du Pont's favoritism shifts from Mark to Dave, the trio is propelled towards a tragedy no one could have foreseen.

“It's a decidedly dark story but I didn't need the visuals to be dark — I only needed them to be honest in terms of the drama," says Fraser about his approach to the look of the movie. "We had a story to tell visually in terms of these characters' progressions, and we achieved this for the most part through progressions of lenses and lighting to help propel Mark's journey throughout the story.”

Fraser chose to shoot Foxcatcher on KODAK film using a series of Panavision Millennium XL cameras. The look and feel changed depending on the location — resulting in the use of lenses from different eras to convey constriction and widening scope during crucial moments of the plot. The entire production team went to great lengths to match the imagery and character interaction to the reality of the events.

“Bennett wanted to use film, and I would never argue with that because to a DP, film is still the ultimate medium,” said Fraser in an interview with ICG Magazine. “To have the director pushing for film, I just say, ‘Sure,’ and go along for the ride. It was fantastic.”

Fraser adds, "We essentially let the story create its own visuals. We wanted to be honest and clear with the drama without getting too bogged down in making it look era-specific."