Director Bennett Miller has a real eye for true stories. He directed the likes of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman and Brad Pitt to performances that rank among the best in their careers in Capote and Moneyball, respectively. His latest film is poised to build on his reputation of pulling great performances out of accomplished actors, as Steve Carell and Channing Tatum both deliver their finest work to date in Foxcatcher. Foxcatcher chronicles the relationship that developed between millionaire John du Pont (Carell) and Olympic wrestlers Mark (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) in the run up to the 1988 games in Seoul.
Foxcatcher is, in many ways, a sports film, but it’s not the kind of sports film Moneyball is, though Tatum’s character does share the obsessive drive that marked Pitt’s take on Billy Beane. In spirit, Foxcatcher feels much more kindred to Capote, it’s stark and bleak where Moneyball was hopeful and even a bit romantic. Tatum is all intensity and envy. The younger brother to a famed sibling, an accomplished, gold-medal winner in his own right, who nonetheless remains relegated to the shadows. As Mark he’s brooding and silent, and quite frequently, frustratingly self-destructive in his determination not to need his brother. Ruffalo meanwhile (in a typically solid performance), is the easy sports champion who is easy to admire. He loves what he does, he’s a great mentor, a family man, an all-around good guy.
Throughout his career Steve Carell has delivered glimpses of his dramatic depths, while Tatum has largely garnered attention for his work in comedy. While both deliver truly impressive performances, it is still Carell who manages to deliver the more stunning effort. His performance as John du Pont is layered and positively haunting. So impactful is the work he does here that this reviewer at least, felt physically ill-at-ease, yet utterly captivated, everytime he popped on the screen.
If you don’t already know the full story of what transpires between du Pont and the Schultz brothers, keep it that way. If you do, you’ll be surprised how much tension is still infused into every moment of the film. It’s a phrase that is too-often tossed about in dialogue around films, but Foxcatcher really is a film that will leave you riveted.
Taut, skillfully shot and directed, and dominated by unforgettable performances, Foxcatcher is a must for fans of prestige dramas, sports sagas and true stories, as well as anyone who ever wanted to see some very big names push themselves to new heights.