Steve Carrell Mesmerizes In The True-Life Wrestling Tragedy, Foxcatcher.
Director: Bennett Miller.
Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman.
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo.
Playing At: Angelika Film Center (Dallas), Cinemark West Plano.
If you're looking for a movie to really move you at the cinema, well, there's a good chance that anything you catch throughout the month of November will do the job.
This, of course, is the time of year when Oscar-buzzed films really start to heat up the multiplex and the time when studios roll out their best films of the year.
To that end, one of the best films of the year earns its release today. It's called Foxcatcher, and it's about the American dream — being relevant, important, a somebody. But it's also about the American nightmare and the ways in which obsession can lead to deadly consequences.
Before we get into the sweat-fueled details, let’s discuss the bit players. Pay attention; this might be a little confusing. Channing Tatum (21 Jump Street) plays Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler. His big brother is David Schultz, a wrestler with the same medal, played by Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers). Moving forward, know that when I say Mark, I'm talking about Channing Tatum’s character. When I say Ruffalo, I mean the actor. Got it? Good.
Because, turns out, neither of those two is the most important character in the film. That honor goes to John du Pont, as played by comedian Steve Carrell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin). Why is he the most crucial? Because even though this role is what one might consider a “supporting” one, it's also the role that stands as Foxcatcher's magnetic core.
Foxcatcher is based on a true story. Set in the late '80s, it follows the lives of brothers Mark and David, who each excel in the art of wrestling. Even after reaching the pinnacle of their sport, these two still live and breath all things relating to the mat: David has is own wrestling business, and Mark is training in hopes of winning more gold. Problem is, Mark is poor, can barely make rent and is living off a steady diet of ramen noodles. Everything then changes — for better and for worse — when du Pont comes into the picture. An entrepreneur, du Pont comes from a wealthy background, and he's achieved a lot in his life. Now, he wants to tackle his dream of coaching an award-winning wrestling team — a team called Foxcatcher, and named after his farm.
With Mark's help, du Pont believes that his dream of Olympic glory can come true, so he flies him to his estate, and offers him a salary and a nice place to live on his ranch, where he will train that team. Mark enthusiastically accepts and things kick off great. But, over time, emotions are combated and a shift in these partners' relationship takes a very bad turn, which leads to one unfixable, hard blow.
That's probably more than enough plot for you to wrestle with. So let's move on and take a minute to look at Tatum's big-screen resume in 2014. He's excelled in comedy (22 Jump Street), voiced two animated films (The Lego Movie and The Book of Life) and, here, he plays a serious wrestler in a movie based on a real tragedy. This is what I would like to call virtuosic versatility. When Tatum wants to be to go complete goon, you'll laugh. And, more important here, when he wants you to take him seriously, you'll marvel at his grounded reservations. He's an actor working on his own terms these days, and his restrained performance in Foxcatcher will leave you in wonder and awe.
More impressive in Foxcatcher, though, is Carrell, who gives the performance of his career. Wearing prosthetics and makeup so as to look more like the real-life du Pont — one ugly sonofabitch — Carrell's face in this film is an ungainly combination of sad eyes, a pointy nose (not unlike the Penguin's in Batman Returns) and yellow-stained little teeth that will surely frighten children should he offer up even the slightest smile. But, more than that, it's Carrell’s slow and purposely languorous mannerisms that sell the performance. His constantly hollow face suggests that du Pont is empty inside. It's a performance that's so authentic, you won't believe it's coming from the same guy who once played complete goofball Michael Scott on The Office. What you will believe is that this performance is impressive enough to get the guy an Academy Award nomination, if not the Oscar itself.
Ruffalo deserves some praise, too, for his turn as David, the older brother who Mark always looks up to and seeks when in need of guidance. Even when playing The Hulk, Ruffalo's always been an average-sized guy. But he really bulked up for this role and, like Carrell, he's almost unrecognizable in it.
The only real bummer of Foxcatcher is how little time we spend with du Pont. The real one led a fascinating life before paranoia took full control and destroyed everything he worked so hard to achieve. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) curtails the character here due to time and shows us only enough for us to know that du Pont was a man who was always doomed, no matter how hard he worked.
Foxcatcher does that much quite well. This really is a film that knows how to tug at your emotions: Some of Foxcatcher's scenes may yank the tears out of you; others will frustrate you to no end. Atmospheric and moody, it made me anxious and uneasy throughout its entire run-time. It does an exceptional job there, while in turn showing us all just how measureless pain and suffering can really be.
No, Foxcatcher isn't a feel-good movie. But an arresting look the pitfalls of the American dream? Yeah, it's definitely that.