Director Bennett Miller’s latest film, Foxcatcher, is a tale of insecurity, obsession, and tragedy with a subtle, but eye-opening performance from Steve Carell.
Foxcatcher tells the story of Olympic-champion wrestlers Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and their strange relationship with John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), an heir to the du Pont fortune. Du Pont is interested in backing Mark as he trains for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. He appeals to the young Schultz’s desire to step out from behind his brother’s shadow. Du Pont also tries to get Dave to come with Mark to his Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania, but he has a family that he doesn’t want to uproot. I don’t want to spoil anything that happens, but slowly, Mark gets drawn into du Pont’s world where the rich can do and get away with anything. Well…almost anything. Eventually, Dave gets sucked in too and tragedy occurs.
The film is a character study of Mark and du Pont, but we never really crack the surface with du Pont and his issues. We certainly watch from the outside and witness him becoming more and more erratic as time goes on, but we never really get inside his head, which makes the end of the film so shocking—unless you know the real story of what happened. Du Pont’s mother issues as well as his need for approval are laid bare as we watch him make desperate attempts to curry favor with his mother. He is also a man in search of companionship, seeking the camaraderie that develops among athletes, but du Pont is far from an athlete, faking his way through life and making self-produced documentaries about himself to elevate his self-worth.
Mark is a sad character and easily manipulated by du Pont and the trappings of wealth. He really doesn’t seem to know what he wants out of life, except to be more like his brother, though he desperately wants to escape from Dave’s shadow, which looms large in Mark’s life. Everywhere he goes, he’s “Dave Schultz’s brother,” while all Dave wants is for Mark to succeed. It’s a sad tale to be sure.
My biggest complaint with the film is that it is a very slow-moving story. While the cast is fantastic in every way, if you don’t know a lot about wrestling or the true life story that inspired the events in the film, you may find yourself feeling a little bored. Other than that, I found the film to be compelling. This is mainly due to Carell’s performance, which becomes increasingly creepier as the film goes on. You won’t find a hint of Michael Scott here. He is absolutely mesmerizing and when you combine his sociopathic tendencies with his feelings of entitlement, you’re transfixed as you wait to see what he’ll do next—to see if he finally becomes unhinged. Tatum also gives a great performance as Mark. I know Carell used prosthetics to look more like du Pont, but I wonder if Tatum did the same. He definitely put on weight for the role, but his jaw is absolutely massive, making him look almost apish in appearance. Ruffalo is his usual great self as the much more balanced Dave, a man who tries to do right by his family, but gets pulled into du Pont’s crazy world nonetheless. Sienna Miller is also good as Dave’s wife, Nancy. Miller is becoming quite the chameleon, as she changes her look just enough to make you surprised to find that she was in the film.
If you want to see some fantastic performances, check out Foxcatcher. Bear with the slow pace of the film, as I feel the audience is rewarded for its patience by the end, but this is not a cheery film by any stretch of the imagination. Miller shows once again that he’s one of the best directors working today and while the film isn’t his best, it’s one that deserves attention.