Nobody's saying Channing Tatum can't pull his weight. But with Foxcatcher, in walks a real contender: an all-around movie star and actor.
Tatum plays Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz, who walks into a room, shoulders first, with his jaw always clenched. Naive and living a mostly solitary life, he trains with his brother, a fellow celebrated wrestler, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), then comes home to a bowl of Ramen. Train. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.
His athletic prowess quickly attracts the attention of a wealthy benefactor with sinister, yet patriotic, intentions, John du Pont (Steve Carrell). Mark receives a call from du Pont’s assistant, and after a meeting with the man himself, agrees to relocate his life, and training, to the family estate, nicknamed “Foxcatcher” farms. To Mark, du Pont’s message is simple: I’ll pay for your training, and help you stay a champion, if you follow my ever-evolving list of house rules.
By now, Carrell’s exceptional and unrecognizable turn as du Pont is so widely known, it borders on parody. He’s gone grey, is sporting an exaggerated proboscis, and speaks with a voice likely workshopped in one of Michael Scott’s improv classes. But the looming hermetic figure is unrelentingly passionate about Mark’s wrestling success, so long as he’s seen as the sole motivator behind his performance. This is a megalomaniac who produces his own “documentaries” (see: propaganda films) about “the du Ponts – America’s Richest Family!” and for a while, Mark believes the hype. With du Pont’s guidance, and his own raw talent, he becomes the 1987 World Champion after just months of living under his care.
But, Mark’s success isn’t enough to satisfy du Pont’s ego. Now, he wants to train more wrestlers, and in pure Norman Bates fashion, to impress his mother with his coaching prowess. If he can’t win her over, he knows Mark will. The pair subsequently develops a pseudo Liberace-Thorson type of relationship between mentor and mentee, albeit not sexual. Mark becomes withdrawn from his brother (Mark Ruffalo), partly by choice, but mostly by du Pont’s insistence that Dave is controlling him, and his destiny. However, soon, he comes to reject du Pont’s suggestions, and du Pont’s seemingly romantic advances, and brother Dave moves his family to Foxcatcher to help him train for the 1988 U.S. Olympic team trial.
It’s here where we see how Ruffalo steals the film with his supporting role, as the sympathetic brother. All he wants is to raise his family and nurture his brother into becoming the best athlete he can be, while remaining skeptical of du Pont’s intentions. Unknowingly, Dave drives a wedge between du Pont and Mark, raising tension between the two, creating an increasingly uncomfortable atmosphere among them. Ultimately, in this tragic true story, we learn how du Pont’s envy gets the best of him.
With Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller goes three-for-three as a director. The film was originally meant to launch for 2013’s Oscar season, but was held back for some fine-tuning. Foxcatcher is a slow-burn, with lengthy out-of-focus shots, and quiet, sprawling music which dilutes the pacing of its true crime story. Miller’s reputation as a methodical maestro certainly holds up, but the movie’s not as strong as Capote or Moneyball.
It’s definitely going to be a major Oscar player, buoyed further from the everlasting bromance of its stars. After all, let’s not forget that after its raves at Cannes, the three leads walked down the Palais steps in tears. Whether all three will receive a nomination remains to be seen, but it’s Ruffalo and Tatum, not Carrell, who should receive the brunt of the attention.