Foxcatcher is a psychological drama directed by Academy Award nominee Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and starring Golden Globe winner Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, Academy Award winner Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller. The film was written by E. Max Frye and Academy Award nominee Dan Futterman. Foxcatcher tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum), who sees a way out from the shadow of his more celebrated wrestling brother Dave (Ruffalo) and a life of poverty when he is summoned by eccentric multi-millionaire John du Pont (Carell) to move onto his estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Desperate to gain the respect of his disapproving mother, du Pont begins “coaching” a world-class athletic team and, in the process, lures Mark into dangerous habits, breaks his confidence and drives him into a self-destructive spiral. Based on actual events, Foxcatcher is a gripping and profoundly American story of fragile men who pinned their hopes for love and redemption on a desperate obsession for greatness that was to end in tragedy.
The desire for greatness is a powerful force, and one of the biggest cruelties life can provide is knowing that no matter how much effort is put into attempting that achievement, they’ll come up short. The reaction to this is what drives Foxcatcher‘s two central characters, Mark Schultz and John du Pont. With both of them, Dave Schultz is the bright and shining example of what they want to be, but somehow can’t. The combination of jealousy and desperation leads the film to its destructive conclusion.
Most films that focus on winning and losing play in simple terms. What’s remarkable about Foxcatcher is how it’s the primary focus of the film. Du Pont wants to talk about wrestling like it’s a noble sport, and a representation of being a true patriot. As the film shows, though, it’s just a sport. The victories Mark and du Pont crave are ultimately meaningless. Early on, we see Mark speak with a group of elementary school students who don’t care that he’s won an Olympic gold medal. The only reason he’s even there is because Dave was too busy.
Foxcatcher‘s primary focus is on the three main performances, and Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo all imbue their characters with a remarkable amount of restraint. Carell is getting the bulk of early awards buzz, and he deserves the attention. Forget the prosthetics – he brings an eerie, chilling calm to du Pont that makes him seem like he’s on the edge of losing it, and we see him slip a few times. He’s creepy, and the impact of his family’s wealth only makes him more insane. Watching him bond with Mark shows how desperate du Pont is, and it’s a credit to Carell how well his pathetic nature is shown.
Ruffalo, more than the other cast members, has the acting credibility coming into the film. Dave Schultz is not a third lead, though, and Ruffalo wisely takes a backseat to his co-stars while making sure he still stands out. Dave’s the normal one here, and Ruffalo treats him as such.
I’ve saved Tatum for last. I know Carell’s getting the buzz, but quite frankly, Tatum gives the most remarkable performance of the film. Mark Schultz is excellent at wrestling, and that’s it. He can’t express himself, so he visibly holds everything in. Just a look into his eyes shows all the pain, humiliation, and rage just below the surface, and when Mark finally expresses himself, it’s a full-body meltdown. It’s been easy to dismiss Tatum for years, but Foxcatcher is the best proof yet in a career that’s taken surprisingly great turns for at least a few years: he’s a great performer.
Foxcatcher isn’t an easy watch. The story is dark and challenging. It’s also one of the more thought-provoking films released this year, and it’s worth the watch. Highly recommended.