Foxcatcher

Posted by Joel Copling on November 6, 2014


"Foxcatcher" is chilling. It is also chilly, occasionally to a fault, but we'll get to that later. This is an accomplishment of filmmaking married with performances from actors who effectively embody the real-life figures they are playing. Director Bennett Miller, whose previous two films chronicled stories of murder and of the world of sports, now meshes the two together into a story about murder in the world of sports. The story is one easily able to be investigated, but I will not be the one to reveal whose murder it is. The sport, however, is that of championship-level wrestling. This is not a story about wrestling, though, nor is it really one about murder. It is about obsession and paranoia, and the screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman occasionally unnerves with its depth into the sociopathic subject of its focus.

Yet John du Pont, the wrestling coach and disgustingly wealthy heir to a family fortune spanning billions played by an unrecognizable Steve Carell, is not truly the fulcrum on which "Foxcatcher" pivots. That would be Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), the gold-medal wrestling champion who was forever living in his older brother Dave's (Mark Ruffalo) shadow until breaking off to go solo. Mark might be a bit thuggish in appearance, but he has a head on his shoulders. He just feels resentment toward Dave for not letting him do his own thing, so when the opportunity arises, he takes it.

Du Pont offers exactly that opportunity in the form of a fifty-thousand-per-year paycheck to wrestle for the billionaire and his Foxcatcher Farms company. This attracts Mark immediately, but Dave isn't so sure about leaving his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids (Jackson Frazer and Danielle Schultz) for the lure of mansion-life, even if it means more than money than he's ever had. Soon, though, this fateful decision proves a bad one, as du Pont leads Mark down a path of cocaine and self-destructive tendencies. Du Pont lords over Mark and, later, Dave, whom he convinces to uproot his family for that bigger paycheck. But in the path of an obsessed coach who sees himself as the father Mark never had, no one is safe.

"Foxcatcher" is anchored by neither one nor two but three of the year's finest performances. At the heart of the film are Tatum, whose internalized desperation for greener pastures is conveyed well, and Ruffalo, whose conflicted Dave is the film's Greek chorus of common sense. Both actors ground the movie and are terrific enough that the next performance that will be mentioned doesn't overshadow them. For Carell is utterly unreal in his transformative turn as John du Pont. The actor, best known for years as Michael Scott on NBC's "The Office" and as the star of many a gross-out (or, at least, over-the-top) comedy, disappears into this role in ways for which even the fake teeth and nose cannot stand in as camouflage. It is on his shoulders that the role (into which it must have been hard to disappear without skirting the line of Method) lives or dies, and the actor provides tremendously.

The final act of "Foxcatcher" takes it into directions likely guessed easily by those who are familiar with stories similar to this one (and, sadly, they exist in other avenues of sport, I'm sure), but whatever one's familiarity with this particular tragedy, when the Moment comes, it is loud and brutal and enough to unsettle the viewer (The audience with whom this writer saw the film was certainly thrown for a loop; it garner intakes of breath and at least two cries aloud). It's all the more tragic because it would have been so easily avoidable. "Foxcatcher" does, however, suffer some coldness by ending the film on the note that it does. In a way, it barely deals with the aftermath, except through a few images of comeuppance and acceptance, but that's the only untruthful note in a film filled with ones equal parts desperate, vulnerable, and human.

Film Information


Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), Steve Carell (John du Pont), Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz), Sienna Miller (Nancy Schultz), Vanessa Redgrave (Jean du Pont), Anthony Michael Hall (Jack), Guy Boyd (Henry Beck), Brett Rice (Fred Cole), Jackson Frazer (Alexander Schultz), Samara Lee (Danielle Schultz).

Directed by Bennett Miller and written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.

Rated R (drug use, violence).

134 minutes.

Released in select cities on November 14, 2014.