“Foxcatcher” is only the third feature from director Bennett Miller, but considering his previous two films (“Capote” and “Moneyball”) both garnered Oscar nominations, anticipation for his latest take on a true story has been sky high. Fans of the director can rest assured: “Foxcatcher” is a fascinating film made all the more absorbing through its rich, vivid characters and efficient storytelling.
We are introduced to wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) a few years after his glory days winning Olympic gold along with his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Dave is now happily married with children, but Mark mopes through life in the shadow of his more successful brother, giving half-hearted motivational speeches to rooms full of bored children. When eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) calls Mark out of the blue and offers to help train him for the 1988 Seoul Olympic games at his lavish estate, there’s no reason for him not to accept.
“Foxcatcher” portrays the man in a way that sheds light on the factors that lead to the big, newsworthy event. By the time we meet Du Pont’s disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave), we start to see the anguish that lead to Du Pont’s mental state. His insistence on being referred to as the “golden eagle” and his absurd patriotic rants start to make sense after we learn of his sad upbringing. As his interactions with Mark grow increasingly troublesome, he becomes more and more sinister and threatening.
Less is more in the world of “Foxcatcher,” and silence pervades. The film opens with what feels like fifteen minutes of virtually no words, and the score is used so sparingly that afterwards I questioned whether or it even had one.
This isn’t a bad thing, and an early training scene featuring Mark and David wrestling one another encapsulates all we need to know about their relationship without any words in a matter of minutes. This is courtesy of the fantastically rich screenplay, Bennett Miller’s impeccable direction, and the exceptional work from the cast.
Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as Du Pont; a giant prosthetic nose, false teeth and pale skin give him an unsettling and imposing air. The film truly belongs to him and is essentially a detailed character study of an individual that is certainly ripe for analysis. Du Pont speaks in a dry, stilted bursts and while his looniness is often played for laughs, there’s an inherent fear established due to the fact that the film presents a ripped-from-the-headlines story that audiences are likely familiar with.
“Foxcatcher” is billed as a true-crime drama, and although I personally wasn’t aware of the events depicted, it’s easy to see that Du Pont is unstable and something horrific is to come.
Channing Tatum is great as Mark, the oblivious lunk caught in Du Pont’s depraved world, and as the situation gets more complicated, his performance becomes more layered and meaningful. His relationship with Du Pont gets weirder as the film progresses but the audience is left in the dark to a certain extent; we only know what’s essential, and nothing more. It’s a quiet, nuanced performance and is easily the best of his career.
Ruffalo is equally good as his brother Dave, and they both really thrive when they’re on screen together; the tension between them is palpable. Carell’s performance is a game-changer for the comic actor and he proves that he can more than pull his weight when it comes to drama. While there are certainly comedic elements to the role, he somehow manages to make Du Pont equally terrifying as he is pathetically funny.
These three lead performances help make “Foxcatcher” incredibly compelling. The film examines very basic questions of human psychology in a way that very few artists have pulled off. What we’re left with is a gripping and thought-provoking work that is sure to stick with you.
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