Acclaimed director Bennett Miller takes his time. Over the past decade, Miller has only released there feature length films: Capote, Moneyball, and now, his newly released film: Foxcatcher. It tells the bizarre true story of multimillionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his effect on Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) as well as his brother, and fellow Olympic wrester, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Miller takes his time with his film output and he does the same with unraveling the narrative of Foxcatcher. It’s a slow burn, fully taking it’s time to move things along, unsettlingly so.
The story begins with Mark Schultz in 1987. He’s an Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler, yet his life at the present is comprised of giving motivation speeches to kids at elementary schools in the place of his brother. He eats ramen alone at his gloomy apartment, seeming lost and unfulfilled. Although both Schultz brothers are Gold Medal winners, Mark constantly lives in the shadow of Dave. That’s how it’s always been, and it’s something that is established early on, and acts as a ghost that’s constantly haunting Mark.
Then, suddenly everything changes with one phone call. One night Mark receives a call from a Mr. John du Pont, a wealthy man with a keen interest in the sport of wrestling. He offers to pay Mark to come and live at his estate in Pennsylvania, to join the Foxcatcher wrestling team and train to compete in the Olympics.
At first, Mark and John prosper together. Mark is finally given the spotlight he’s yearned for all his life, and strikes a unique bond with John that seems too good to be true. Like most good things, this doesn’t last, and soon John finds a way to get Dave involved. Mark doesn’t take too kindly to his brother once again finding a way to steal the spotlight, and soon enough the Foxcatcher team becomes a web of jealousy and betrayal.
Miller places you firmly in the mindset of Mark’s isolation throughout the film, offering a somewhat chilly direction that takes lets the story unfold at a steady pace. He doesn’t rush the scenes, allowing the actors to fully play out the actions as if they’re happening in real time. A good portion of these moments are free of score or music of any kind, allowing you to fully become engrossed in the character nuances. These little details are equally as important as the words that follow. Credit to Miller, cinematographer Greig Fraser and the screenwriting team of E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman for achieving this, as it’s not an easy thing to pull off. When the score composed by Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson’s is used, it’s a mighty force that is ten times more effective, giving the film an extra boost of emotional power.
In a film that relies on its characters, casting is everything. Thankfully, they have a uniquely perfect trio of leads that deliver the goods. By now, you’ve heard about the Oscar worthy performance from Steve Carell as du Pont, and I’m proud to say that all the praise and hype is deserved. He delivers one of the best performances of the year, totally transforming into the character, making you totally forget that it’s Michael Scott wearing a prosthetic nose. His portrayal of du Pont is chilling to the core, to the point where he just may be the best movie villain of the year.
While Carell is stealing all the accolades, the same praise must go to Channing Tatum, who many are forgetting is the films lead. Tatum hasn’t gotten much respect as an actor over the years, with most referring to him as just a pretty face. Prepare to bite your tongues, Tatum is a true force as Mark Schultz, delivering a emotional and physical performance that you feel all the way. Equally as good is Mark Ruffalo, who makes use of every bit of his limited screen time. He’s the calm balance out of the three, offering a steady perspective in the crossfire. Lastly, there’s some great work put in by veteran actress Vanessa Redgrave, who plays John’s mother Jean du Pont, an ice cold woman surely responsible for the eccentricity of her spoiled son.
You’ll leave Foxcatcher haunted and affected, even if you know what’s coming at the finish line. It’s hard to believe that it’s based of a true story, as things get way out of hand, weird to the point where it’s nearly comical. But Miller has a handle of it all, delivering a chilling film that is one of 2014’s best.