Left to right: Steve Carell as John du Pont and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz
Photo by Scott Garfield, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
2014, 134 minutes
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Review by Joshua Handler
Bennett Miller is on a roll. With Foxcatcher, he's back in Capote-like territory, exploring another very dark piece of American history. The film tells the story of Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a wrestler who is taken in by multi-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carrell). Du Pont wants to coach a wrestling team for the Olympics and eventually enlists the help of Schultz's brother, David. As DuPont becomes more unstable and more pressure it put on Mark, everything begins to spiral out of control.
While the story's events spiral out of control, Miller keeps a tight grip over the film. As one fellow critic noted, the film's sensationalistic material is played in a non-sensational manner by Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, which is to all of their credit. Like Miller's previous two films, Capote and Moneyball, Foxcatcher is a drama completely driven by character.
The lead three characters are well-written, especially du Pont. While du Pont is certainly a monster, he's the character I felt the most for, as he's so pathetic that he becomes tragic. The most powerful scenes in the film are the ones in which all three actors appear together. Each one plays off of the other and makes the chilly dialogue come to disturbing life.
Carrell, Tatum, and Ruffalo are all riveting. Tatum is the standout. Everything he's appeared in over the past few years seems to have built to this performance. Over the past few years, Tatum has proven himself to be a truly gifted actor showing that he is as talented a comedian (21 and 22 Jump Street) as he is a dramatic actor (Magic Mike). Even with his increasingly impressive filmography, many still do not completely take him seriously. Foxcatcher will change that and likely earn him an Oscar nomination. As Mark, Tatum is quiet, yet brooding. This is a performance of brute force and sensitivity blended beautifully.
Steve Carrell is disturbing as John du Pont. With a lot of make-up, Carrell has an eerie presence that lingers over the film. It took a while for me to get used to Carrell in this role, as he has a face that automatically makes me laugh (he's obviously well-known for being one of the most talented comedians working today), but once I settled in, I became more and more unnerved by Carrell's performance. His du Pont is one of the most believable villains to grace the screen in a while. Carrell doesn't seem to see du Pont as a psychopath, but rather as a man frustrated by his own shortcomings. He will likely be Oscar-nominated as well.
While Ruffalo isn't given quite as much screen time as his co-stars, he is the film's secret weapon and emotional core. David is the only mentally stable one of the lead three and sees through du Pont. Ruffalo's scenes with Carrell are especially tense.
There's been a theme of American discontent and disillusionment in films recently. With The Overnighters, Gone Girl, and now Foxcatcher, among many others, it's interesting to see how the thematics of this year's films have evolved from last year's. 2013 was the year that films celebrated American excess (The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle). 2014's films are taking a step back and looking at the darker side of America; how people's personal failures can lead to tragedy. I could write on about this all day, but will spare you. This is just a fascinating trend I noticed after viewing Foxcatcher today.
Overall, Foxcatcher is a rich, nuanced, unsettling film. Credit must also go to Greig Fraser's calm, misty cinematography, Rob Simonsen's score, and Jay Cassidy, Stuart Levy, and Conor O'Neill's sharp editing, as they contribute greatly to the mounting sense of unease that builds throughout. Some will be turned off by Foxcatcher's deliberate pace, but most will be glued to their seats, as I was. Foxcatcher is a film that people will remember for years.