Steve Carell goes for the funny so often that when he plays a serious role, it comes as something of a shock. For “Foxcatcher,” a new drama based on real-life events, the actor transforms himself into John du Pont, a wealthy philanthropist who acquired lots of trophies, especially famous people.
Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a young wrestler who, along with his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), won a gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. While his brother enjoys almost legendary status in the wrestling world, Mark struggles to make enough money to survive.
John du Pont, who failed at his own Olympic dreams, reaches out to Mark. He offers the young athlete a salary and turns the family’s Foxcatcher Farm into a training facility for American athletes. Like the trophies that line his walls, the wealthy philanthropist surrounds himself with young, healthy men.
Though he acquired Mark, du Pont desperately wants Dave Schultz on his payroll. Initially, Dave refuses to leave his coaching position and uproot his family, but eventually joins Team Foxcatcher. Dave and John don’t always see eye-to-eye on things, though, especially when it comes to Mark.
Though director Bennett Miller and Steve Carell attempt to get into du Pont’s head, “Foxcatcher” doesn’t adequately explain his bizarre motivations. The film suggests that the philanthropist always wanted to please his mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), but nothing he does is good enough for the family matriarch.
The wealthy du Pont also indulged a love for weapons. Throughout the film, Carell, wearing makeup and a prosthetic nose, carries a handgun and buys his own tank. Looking the part, Carell embodies the madness that was John du Pont as best he can. His mannerisms and speech may seem harmless, but Carell reveals the underlying malice in his behavior.
Channing Tatum does a nice job as frustrated athlete Mark Schultz. Though talented, Schultz floundered in his post-Olympic years and was envious of Dave’s success. As the brothers work out in one early scene, Mark takes out his anger and frustration on his brother as they hit the mat.
Like his character, Mark Ruffalo is the most valuable player in “Foxcatcher.” Ruffalo gives a well-rounded performance as Dave Schultz, a guy watching out for his family, especially his brother. This is a different kind of role for the actor, and one that he handles well. Ruffalo definitely has a good shot at Oscar gold this year.
Tedious at times, “Foxcatcher” still is a good showcase for Carell and Ruffalo. It also sheds more light on events that nearly 20 years later, make little sense.
“Foxcatcher,” rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence, opens in the St. Louis area on December 19.