“And when Dave enters the picture to shine a light in an increasingly dark place, du Pont shockingly, tragically extinguishes it. The film makes you uncomfortable and sad, and in this case, that’s exactly what it needed to do.”

by Steve Pulaski

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher opens along the lines of a mumblecore film, with little dialog and brief sequences establishing the ho-hum routine of somebody we would think would live a more intriguing and layered life. For the film’s first fifteen minutes, we follow the routine of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic gold-medalist in wrestling who is now wading in the water for something to either come to him or him to find something to go to. These are a profound fifteen minutes, low-key and substantive in the regard that even somebody we fable and could possibly model ourselves after still goes through the checklist of ordinary things in his daily life: eating alone at a small, fold-up table in his apartment, eating fast food in his car, practicing at your average wrestling gym, and so forth. During these fifteen minutes, dialog is rare and we are captivated by the ambiance of Mark’s surroundings and the bleak way Miller and cinematographer Greig Fraser (cinematographer for Zero Dark Thirty) capture his environment.

Directed by
Bennett Miller
Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Release Date
14 November 2014
Steve’s Grade: B+

One day, Mark is contacted by a representative for John Eleuthère du Pont, a multimillionaire philanthropist who wants to meet with him at once. Mark travels to du Pont’s lavish home, where he informs him of his patriotism and his love for the sport of wrestling, and offers to coach Mark for his wrestling team known as “Foxcatcher,” where they would travel and compete in wrestling tournaments all around the world. Mark contacts his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who has settled down with a wife and kids and, while he doesn’t want to drop everything to join a wrestling team, supports his brother, for he sees that his brother’s life has become a drudgery of existing rather than living. Mark accepts du Pont’s offer and travels out to work under his grueling, yet motivating practices to hopefully become “the greatest wrestler in the world,” a title that Mark has long-desired.

John du Pont is played by Steve Carell in one of his most fascinating and bizarre roles to date. Carell is buried under a plethora of facial prosthetics, giving his face a fatter, aged look to it, with gray, scaly-skin, thinning hair, little to no eyebrows, and a large, protruding nose. While, at first, you’re distracted by Carell’s getup, he overcomes one of the toughest hurdles in his acting career, which is getting you to look past the heavy use of makeup and manipulation to look at the character instead. Carell has always been an intriguing character actor to watch, taking comedy and drama roles, weaving in and out of them beautifully, like a younger Robin Williams. Here, he gives a haunting and unpredictable performance of a character that never seems fully relaxed and never quite stable.

Director Bennett Miller tells the story in the artful and calculated manner that defined his last two films, Capote and Moneyball, but this time there’s more of an emphasis on atmosphere. With the help of cinematographer Greig Fraser and composer Mychael Danna, he presents a world that is cloaked in shadow, everything cast in the somber hues of the countryside in winter. It’s all very ominous, and very slow. Some may find the pace dull, but if you allow yourself to sink into the story, it envelops you like cold silk.

Foxcatcher is a terrific adult drama because it’s so rare to see a film so low-key in its themes and its display of events, yet so effective in delivering a wild true story with all the punch it needs. Its only real misstep is how little we know about du Pont’s deteriorating mental state at the end, and because of that, the ending comes out of nowhere, as if Miller and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman didn’t offer enough development or foreshadowing as to something like what occurred was about to take place. Furthermore, du Pont’s character is sort of left as an enigma throughout the whole film, which may have been what he was like in real life to the brothers Schultz, but it becomes a bit of a contradiction, as the film tries to humanize the Schultz’s yet leave du Pont cast in shadow.

However, this small feature still doesn’t obscure the fact that Foxcatcher is one of the strongest adult dramas of the year, and has a collection of some of the year’s finest performances all in one film.

(You can watch a video showing the actual John du Pont here)