Brilliant, moody character study. Foxcatcher is gutsy by being slow-moving and quiet for much of the time, and being confident that the material, psychology and scenery is fascinating enough to hold us. This true story is about 1984 Olympic Gold Medal winner Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who was living on frugal means three years later, eating dollar hamburgers while continuing his training for the 1988 Olympics. Billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) beckons him to his estate with the promise he will fund and coach him. Empowering things are said from mentor to protégé that add to this athlete’s self-worth. For the first time, Mark is living the high life.
I have no idea who director Bennett Miller’s connections are (he made “Capote” and “Moneyball”) but he somehow got permission to shoot the film on an extravagant estate. This is suitable, since this is about a change of a young man’s mindset when he lives around moneyed surroundings. Schultz trains everyday with hard sight on another Olympic gold medal, and boosted because he revered by du Pont. But du Pont’s depression eventually sets in, and the quest for gold falters for the both of them.
“Foxcatcher” daringly summons the essence of a billionaire’s depression and an athlete’s crushed spirit. It is uncommon to get this kind of story put on screen, and so unflinchingly.
Mark also has a brother named David who is a professional wrestler, and he is played by Mark Ruffalo. Character actor Ruffalo has played Ruffalo-looking guys for so many years, but this time he’s beefier, huskier. I wouldn’t have known it was Ruffalo unless if I hadn’t looked at the credits. David, the older brother is naturally more authoritative, and alas, steals his brother’s thunder. Here are two brothers whom are incapable of sharing the same spotlight.
I certainly had the expectation that I was being set up for another inspirational sports fable since virtually all sports movies are inspirational sports fables. I was unprepared for the direction it steered into. The acting is brilliant, and the writing is good enough to be studied in your mind weeks after I’ve seen it.
Tatum gives his first great dramatic performance, he is strong with a fragile ego. Carell’s performance is the best that I’ve seen this year because it is as unique, as hard to capture, as anything I’ve seen in some time. He is exorbitantly rich, yes, but socially he is pitiful. He gives an instruction speech to his team in one scene while his domineering mother (Vanessa Redgrave) looks on unimpressed, and the more he talks, the more redundant and transparently hollow his leadership comes across. Carell, in comedy or drama, can play a man who has never been in love better than any actor in ten years. We just didn’t appreciate it until now.
This is not a true story you should read up on before you go in to see the film. Let it surprise you. There are flaws, yes (Sienna Miller, as David’s wife, doesn’t have much of an opinion on anything, then the “facts” at the end are hastily run past), but it doesn’t deter the overall accomplishments. Afterwards I was certain this is as fine a dramatization of American tragedy that I’ve come across in several years, maybe the finest since “Black Swan” (2010) or perhaps “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007). For better or worse, I have been in a dark introverted moods while contemplating the film since. That’s because I’m still replaying the film since I’ve seen it.
134 Minutes. Rated R.
DRAMA / BIOPIC / WEEKEND FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Film Cousins: “Reversal of Fortune” (1990); “Born Rich” (2003); “Capote” (2005); “The Wrestler” (2008).