by Jason Koenigsberg
Director: Bennett Miller
Foxcatcher is a brilliant new film from director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) based on the true story of Olympic wrestlers Mark and his older brother Dave Schultz played by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo respectively. At the center of the story is John du Pont (an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell), a wealthy son of the famous du Pont family, and his vision of bringing home Olympic Gold is what sets the course of events in the film in motion
It opens up with Mark Schultz (Tatum) living the clichéd life you hear about of regarding sad, lonely athletes who had a fleeting moment of glory. He goes around to elementary schools showing off his gold medal from the 1984 Olympics and describes (unconvincingly) what winning the gold for your country means to bored audiences. He goes home, eats ramen noodles for dinner and his only family or friend is his older brother whom he trains with for the next Olympics.
Out of nowhere Mark receives a phone call that will alter his fate as well as his brother David’s. John du Pont wants to train him to be a great wrestling champion for his country. Mark moves in to the du Pont compound to train and soon his brother uproots his family and moves out to Pennsylvania as well to train for John du Pont on Team Foxcatcher (named after the du Pont family estate).
The direction starts off a little awkward with a lot of moments where the camera just captures images of people sitting in lavish living rooms. The editing is slow paced even during some of the intense wrestling matches, but once you get past the first hour of the film, the weaknesses in the editing no longer matter and that is because the real strength of Foxcatcher is in the performances.
The acting is truly superb and engrosses the viewer into the story. This picture is a real showcase for three very talented actors all turning in arguably career best performances that I hope will not be ignored come Oscar time. I realize that is a bold statement but these performances must be seen. They are enigmatic and worth savoring.
Eight years ago I saw Steve Carell in Little Miss Sunshine and I remember stating that Carell showed real potential to be a very good dramatic actor. That potential has finally paid off here playing a spoiled, sick and delusional man-child. He will make you hate him at times and feel sorry for him at other times because he comes across as so pathetic and trapped in his own fortress of prosperity. He also makes John du Pont so convincingly real because of his depiction as a grown adult harboring some very serious and painful mommy issues. He makes royalty in America look as if it comes with a heavy price to grow up with the emotional scars he was given. This is not just a comic actor in make up and a prosthetic nose, this is a talented actor delivering a searing performance.
Channing Tatum has the smallest resume of the leading men but make no mistake he turns in a brutally realistic and heartfelt performance as Mark Schultz, playing him like a human pit bull who is easily swayed by du Pont’s offer only to suffer agony in betrayal and emotional defeat. I commented in my review of this summers 22 Jump Street that he had great comedic ability as an actor. Here Channing Tatum proves that given the right script he can deftly act in comedic and dramatic roles much like his co-star Steve Carell.
The one performance to savor that I think will unfortunately be the one that gets ignored come award season is Mark Ruffalo as Mark’s big brother David. Ruffalo is the moral center of the picture and the one that you always can relate to because he is a family man and more importantly he never seems as lost and delusional in his quest for Olympic Gold as his brother or John du Pont. He is the only person his brother can always count on. Mark Ruffalo is one of the best actors working today and this is one of his finest performances along with You Can Count on Me (2000) and The Kids are Alright (2011).
Ultimately, Foxcatcher is an on-point allegory about the cost of the American dream. Even more so than last years very good films Wolf of Wall Street and Pain and Gain. This movie allows its characters to really delve deep into the heart of what it means to be an American hero. This is a great character based drama and a master class of acting. They all want so desperately to become a champion by the American definition that it makes some of them lose sight of their humanity and decency as individuals.