Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz
Steve Carell as John du Pont
Mark Ruffalo as David Schultz
Sienna Miller as Nancy Schultz
Anthony Michael Hall
Vanessa Redgrave as Jean du Pont
Tara Subkoff as Steph
Brett Rice as Fred Cole
Guy Boyd as Henry Beck
Samara Lee as Danielle Schultz
Daniel Hilt as Robert Garcia
Mark Schultz as Weigh-in Official #1
Directed by Bennett Miller
Brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo) are both Olympic Gold Medalist wrestlers preparing Mark for the 1988 Summer Olympics, when they’re contacted by billionaire heir John du Pont (Steve Carell), who wants the bring the brothers to his Pennsylvania estate Foxcatcher Farms to have them coach a team of wrestlers to Olympic gold.
The latest film from Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bennett Miller offers a number of elements that hark back to his earlier “Capote,” and this may not be too surprising when you realize he’s once again working from a screenplay written by Dan Futterman. Although “Foxcatcher” doesn’t have a known personality like Truman Capote as a selling point, it’s another fascinating character study set within a little-known true crime story, which allows Miller to explore everything from the U.S. class system to using patriotism as a weapon.
Miller tells this story with a similarly deliberate pace as he did “Capote,” often going for the “show don’t tell” route of allowing the viewer to be a fly on the wall as we watch the Schultz brothers wrestling in an opening scene that reminds us of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.”
The core of the story involves the downfall of Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler played by Channing Tatum, whose potential to become one of the country’s top wrestlers is sidelined by his alignment with billionaire John du Pont. From the moment we meet him, Mark doesn’t seem like the sharpest blade in the drawer, but he seizes an opportunity to get out from his older brother’s shadow with the help of du Pont, not realizing the psychological torment (some intentional, some not) he’ll face at his hands.
With a patriotism that borders on obsession, Du Pont believes that money can buy anything and gets visibly upset when his offers are declined. As easy as it is to convince Mark to join Team Foxcatcher, it’s much harder to convince his older brother Dave to move his family to the estate to be the team’s coach. Once Dave does agree to come to the estate, the dynamic between du Pont and Mark worsens, because Mark once again feels he’s playing second fiddle to Dave. (There’s a tension between Mark and du Pont that borders on sexual, including one creepy scene that seems to imply there was some abuse going on in their relationship.)
Futterman’s screenplay creates a strong foundation for a trio of astounding performances, the most intriguing one being that of Carell’s du Pont. He isn’t necessarily crazy but rather, he’s quite delusional, used to having a certain amount of power and freedom to do whatever he wants due to the vast amount of money at his disposal. Du Pont’s mother, played by Vanessa Redgrave with a cynical look permanently ingrained into her expression, does not approve of her son’s hobbies, which just pushes him to even greater lengths to try and impress her.
We start to realize exactly how delusional du Pont is as they’re celebrating a big victory for Team Foxcatcher and he tries to take down his much younger athletes, then later on, he funds his very own “over-50s” wrestling tournament. Carell’s performance is more than just a funny prosthetic nose or a great make-up artist giving him splotchy skin, because his delivery of each line, giving each word such gravitas, is part of what makes du Pont so unique. While the movie is mostly handled as a serious drama, it’s hard not to laugh at some of the things that come out of du Pont’s mouth, especially when he casually mentions his friends call him “Golden Eagle.” And that’s the type of character we’re dealing with here that makes Carell’s performance so noteworthy.
That’s not to take anything away from Tatum, a great choice to play Mark Schultz, since he has the physique of an athlete, but he’s also able to handle the emotions that go with the dramatic change that he goes through. Mark Ruffalo’s role is not one that should be discounted as his performance is pivotal to the dynamics between the three men in what is essentially a three-hander.
If you’re aware of the incident that makes this an interesting story to tell, you may find it odd that said incident only happens in the last ten minutes of the movie. Instead, Miller and Futterman have created a character piece that offers some truth and probably a lot of conjecture about what led to that event.
The Bottom Line:
“Foxcatcher’s” slow pace won’t be for everyone, especially those interested in the wrestling aspect of the story, but watching three actors give such riveting performances in the telling of such a fascinating character piece more than makes up for it.