“Foxcatcher” is a real slow burn. I have watched it twice now because I admit I didn’t fully grasp the story the first time around. Director Bennett Miller previously made “Moneyball” and “Capote”, which were absorbing and talkative dramas. This time he takes a note from the book of Malick, using less dialogue and more visual imagery and ominous, unfocused story telling. The dredd is buildilng in every scene to moment of confusing and heart shattering violence. This is one of the most haunting movies of the year.
Channing Tatum plays Mark Shultz, a real life Olympic Gold winning wrestler. Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) both took home the top prize at the 1984 Olympic games. The two brothers seemed of drifted in to different directions after their victory. Mark lives alone, training for the world championships every day, showing little to no emotion to those around him. Dave has married, started a family and is more the face of wrestling than his brother.
Mark recieves a call one day from the representatives of John Du Pont, a millionaire and wrestling coach. He asks Mark to move on to his estate and train his team in his personal facilities. Du Pont is portrayed by Steve Carrell who turns in a truly disturbing and intense performance as a man who is always seems on the edge of ambition and sanity.
At first Du Pont and Mark become close. Du Pont becomes a sort of father figure to Mark. The relationship always seems based on desperate need. We can feel that it is doomed from the beginning. Du Pont is also a cocaine addict which he passes on to Mark casually. When this relationship does eventually break down, Du Pont asks Mark’s brother Dave to move his family on to the estate and to take over training the team which he agrees to do. Eventually he starts to fall under the spell of Du Pont, who uses his money and influnce to coerce the brothers the in to portraying him to the public as a mentor and father figure to them.
Everything reaches a boiling point resulting in a sudden and shocking act of violence. How we got this point was what lost me at first. The second viewing I found was more revealing. I started to realize that this is more of a portrayal of mental illness than it is about wrestling.
There is not a whole lot of dialogue in the film as I said. Instead we get a lot of internal performances from the actors. Steve Carell in specific creates a portrait of a man who has dark demons that we never truly understand. He is barely recognizeable under the make up but the performance comes through. It is a real revelation.
Channing Tatum also turns in his strongest work yet. I don’t think I have seen him in a role quite like this yet. He seems like a time bomb in every scene. He also creates a physical performance that should not be overlooked. During the wrestling scenes he looks like a pro.
Mark Ruffalo also turns in another great performance. It might be easy to overlook his work since he doesn’t really factor in to the movie until the final act. The moment where Dave is giving a recorded interview and is asked to refer to John Du Pont as his mentor is his best moment. Clearly he does not want to say this but he does.
Director Bennett Miller really takes this scene by scene. Everything builds towards a tragic event that really doesn’t make any sense until the second viewing. At least it was that way for me. The film itself is absorbing and engaging.