On paper, it sounds like a joke. Some kind of spoof, maybe. Channing Tatum playing a wrestler who lives in the shadow of his older brother played by Mark Ruffalo, and who finds himself under the training of the wealthiest man in America, who just happens to be played by Steve Carell. But if Foxcatcher is void of anything, it’s a sense of humor. Tatum leaves his Jump Street jokes behind and Carell makes us forget that Brick Tamland from Anchorman ever happened and it’s an acting tour de force that you have to see to believe.
In the film, it’s the late 1980s. Tatum plays Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler who lives in the shadow of his older brother Dave (Ruffalo), who is also a successful wrestler. But there isn’t hate involved because Dave practically raised Mark, so the bond is strong and there is a deep love that can be seen in the intimate camera shots that show the two practicing together, holding each other close. Being an Olympic gold medal winner apparently doesn’t you get you much in life, as we see Tatum early on giving speeches for elementary students and living in a small apartment, apparently stricken over the poor quality of his life situation.
That all changes when he gets a call on the phone from someone that speaks in the name of John du Pont, saying that Mr. Du Pont wants to meet with Mark for some secret purpose. If you don’t know who John du Pont is, he was (at one point), one of the wealthiest men in America, an heir to the E.I. du Pont family fortune. Also, if you don’t know who du Pont is, you’re on Mark’s side. He doesn’t know about him, other than the fact that he is wealthy and that he is summoning him to his home at Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania for some strange meeting. When the meeting comes, we find out that du Pont wants Mark to join “Team Foxcatcher,” a privately formed wrestling team that will compete in the Olympics in an effort to win gold.
It’s obvious that Mark will go for this, and he does. The film’s issues arise in the character of du Pont himself, both in his near insane personality traits to his edgy love for the sport of wrestling. He claims that he wants to form this team for the purpose of rewarding wrestlers (specifically, Mark) with the praise and benefits that other nations reward their wrestlers with, but America has failed to. But as the film progresses, we see du Pont for who he is, a man who may just want to do this for his mother’s approval, and to satisfy his love for wrestling that may just be homoeroticism in disguise.
As du Pont, Steve Carell (yes, that Steve Carell) is a marvel, landing a game changing performance that takes everything he’s ever done in his successful career and flipping it, nailing an excellent and disturbingly cold performance unlike anything you’ve ever seen. One could argue that it’s only the heavy makeup that makes Carell looks different, but I would argue that it isn’t just his looks that change, but his entire demeanor. No one says that Heath Ledger became The Joker because of the makeup alone. He transformed himself into his character. Carell isn’t quite “Ledger’s Joker” good, but he’s great in the role, casting a binding spell on us in every scene, completely convincing us that his 40-Year Old Virgin style of acting has momentarily vanished.
Equally terrific is Channing Tatum, who once again proves himself to be a high caliber actor, ranging from very quiet to violent outbursts. In one scene, Tatum unleashes his frustration by punching himself in the face and slamming his head into a glass mirror, an act that was actually committed by Tatum. Seeing Tatum walk around the room with real glass shards in his head makes a case for his dedication and the overall talent contained now that his former “ladies man” days are over. Also, Mark Ruffalo is excellent, not having much screen time for the first half of the film but coming into play later on and always maintaining the emotional core that is lacking in anyone else.
There isn’t much of an emotional core because the story of Foxcatcher is a dark one. Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) directs with a sure eye, having every single scene lit and shot to perfection by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Let Me In). Some are saying that the film is excruciating slow. I couldn’t disagree more. I loved every second, and it didn’t bore me once. Even when the pace is slow, and it is definitely slow, the performances are impossible to turn away from. This isn’t a wrestling movie. This is dark, cold, and emotionally distant piece that tackles themes of wealth, success, perversion, and the American dream. It may be too early to say it, but I think Foxcatcher is a masterpiece of not only American cinema, but cinema that sets deeply rooted American themes as its topics. It’s a near perfect film.
2 hrs. 10 mins.
Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman,
Directed by Bennett Miller