There’s a certain degree of discomfort movie viewers receive when they realize the ominous, unnerving tone of those first few scenes will carry on throughout the film, inevitably leading to a terrifying conclusion.
For “Foxcatcher,” director Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”) has presented a master class on how to deliver squeamish and troubled reactions not through pop-out scenes or twisted nonsense but rather through the impeccable portrayals of some deeply disturbed people that find their demise in the face of America’s idea of extreme exceptionalism.
Based on the true story of Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz and the aftermath they embark on after meeting John Du Pont, the heir to one of America’s richest families in history, who wishes to personally coach Mark toward his goal of becoming a world champion, “Foxcatcher” depicts the sadness that comes from neglect and in turn the detrimental effect of idolizing someone with a morbid outlook on the world.
Mark, played by an enticing and revelatory Channing Tatum, is a sullen, one-dimensional egomaniac whose life revolves around leaving behind a legacy that isn’t associated with his older brother Dave, played by an astounding Mark Ruffalo. After training with his brother for a lifetime, Mark is swept away by an offer he can’t refuse from Du Pont, played by Steve Carell, and begins a relationship that is destined for catastrophe.
Mark’s life and happiness become completely conditioned on his “best friend, mentor and hero” Du Pont, who, as someone with wealth beyond imagination, never learned any sense of humility.
The film does a sensational job of portraying how easily an athlete’s life can become overtaken by an unhealthy desire for ultimate domination. When Mark tells Du Pont his only goal is simply to be the best, it’s clear through the sound of his tone this is not an 8-year-old dreaming up his future. This is a man whose inner psyche has become unflinchingly warped, and without achieving that goal, he will be nothing but a shadow to his successful (and significantly more sane) brother.
However, the high point of “Foxcatcher” comes undoubtedly from Carell, who sheds his more prominent, hilariously sarcastic side for a fake nose and uppity stature that is not just pretentious but simply diabolical. If John Du Pont wants something, John Du Pont will get it. Each shot of Du Pont sitting low in his chair with his emotionless glare, looking down at his inferiors, has some odd, disturbing effect, as though suggesting the mesmerizing last dent he makes on the Schultz family.
I can’t say this was your conventional, “fun time at the movies” experience, where I could turn off for a bit and be immersed in a beautiful story. “Foxcatcher” demanded much more. All three main actors deliver the best performances thus far in their careers, flaunting an incredible commitment to this deranged story of success gone astray in America.
MOVE gives “Foxcatcher” 4.5 stars out of 5.