Foxcatcher (2014 Annapurna Pictures, Likely Story)
The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo. Directed by Bennett Miller. Written by E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman. Executive Producers: Bennett Miller, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik & Anthony Bregman.
“Coach is the father. Coach is the mentor. Coach has great power on athlete’s life.”
These are the words uttered by John E. du Pont, the centerpiece character of this true crime drama, although pinning Foxcatcher into that genre isn’t necessarily accurate. Yes, it’s a true story, but Foxcatcher is more a psychological examination of individuals unraveling from the weight of their own expectations upon themselves, the expectations of others, their own insecurities and their own beliefs that they are never going to be truly recognized for their accomplishments.
Du Pont, played by an unrecognizable Steve Carell, takes an interest in training Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz, a self flagellating man who, despite his own achievements, seems destined to live in the long shadow cast by his more popular older brother and fellow gold medalist, Dave. Mark bonds quickly with du Pont, but the past demons and self destructive nature boil over to dire results for everyone involved. Is du Pont really a wrestling coach or a Svengali type, living vicariously through his muse? The answer is probably self evident.
While Steve Carell is rightly receiving high praise for his portrayal as the heir to the du Pont empire, he did not overshadow Channing Tatum or Mark Ruffalo, who played Mark and Dave Schultz. Tatum is fast proving he is more than just a chiseled pretty boy. Tatum perfectly captures Mark’s inner rage. He’s a frustrated, angry clenched fist that wants to punch at the world and prove himself. More often than not, he turns that aggression inward at himself. Ruffalo, as the popular Dave Schultz, turns in one of his best and most subtle performances. He plays Dave as a humble, empathetic father figure to Mark, balancing when he was to be firm or supportive to his brother. Winning seems to come easy to Dave, which creates tension for others, but Dave never flaunts it. Through Ruffalo, Dave is a gentle, likable character who simply wants to see his brother succeed.
Foxcatcher is a performance driven film. Like with his prior films, director Bennett Miller relies on the actors more than clever editing or camera angles. To his credit, Miller did not overstate or overcook Foxcatcher with faux “Hollywood” devices to upsell the drama. The drama of Foxcatcher isn’t in a heavy score or awe-inspiring camera angels. It is in the still moments, when we look in the eyes of du Pont or Mark Schultz and see the self doubt and anger burning in them.
That’s why Foxcatcher succeeds, though its pace and slow burn may turn off some audiences, Foxcatcher is less about plot and more about character study. It isn’t a movie about who wins or loses. Foxcatcher is about tortured souls fighting losing battles with their demons. The unfortunate truth of Foxcatcher is the wrong people end up paying the price.
RATING: *** stars (out of five)