Director: Bennett Miller
Cast: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller
If there’s a missing link between director Bennett Miller’s Capote (2005) and his very different follow-up Moneyball (2011), Foxcatcher could more or less function as a cinematic bridge for those films. Like Moneyball, Foxcatcher is a compelling sports-based biographical pic but it’s more akin to Capote in that it’s a psychological drama based on a true story about a peculiar and ultimately disturbing relationship.
Three years after U.S. Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) won a gold medal at the 1984 games, he and eventually his older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) are recruited by multi-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) to operate a training complex at Foxcatcher estate. As the story progresses, the initial question of why would the heir to the Du Pont family fortune would want to be involved with amateur wrestling evolves into a darker examination of the human psyche.
Foxcatcher’s intelligent screenplay delivers its layered narrative with a deft touch. Some viewers could rightly see this as a tale of pathological ambition or about the corruption of wealth and power. However, the aspect of the story that resonates the most lies in the mentally unbalanced minds of its characters.
In a purely dramatic role, Steve Carell’s strong performance peels back the different facades of du Pont: a respected philanthropist, a self-deluded egoist, and a disconcerting old man. Du pont’s depiction is sufficiently developed yet he remains an enigma.
The other half of the unlikely pair is Channing Tatum in a suitably restrained performance. He’s convincing at portraying the physically imposing and mentally fragile side of the Olympic wrestler. Both du Pont and Mark Schultz share a lonely, broken soul but their motivation in the pursuit of athletic excellence and glory is very different.
As much as Mark Schultz wants to get out from under the shadow of his older brother, the screenplay shows us that it’s the bond between them that’s been the foundation of his success. The heart of the movie belongs to Mark Ruffalos’ sympathetic portrayal and it’s that very quality which makes the final act work.
Foxcatcher’s success owes a lot to its direction. Miller seamlessly inter-splices grainy footage of a fox hunt and a civil war battle which took place on the same grounds as Foxcatcher ranch; serving as a brilliant touch of foreshadowing and representation of the primary characters’ internal conflict.
Miller also keeps a good handle on Foxcatcher’s tone which is wrought with an uneasy, icy-cold tension that can deliberately shift into almost absurd moments – the kind of awkwardness that needs to be dispelled with an uncomfortable, quiet chuckle.
Foxcatcher is a thicket of fog to Moneyball’s brighter, inspirational disposition. Though several real-life wrestling matches are recreated, it’s less a sports movie and more of a character driven drama. Foxcatcher may not be visually flashy but it is a well-made film that garnered Miller with the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival.