Director: Bennett Miller.
Screenplay: Dan Futterman, E. Max Frye.
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, Jackson Frazer, Samara Lee.
“I’m gonna give you everything I have”.
After the likes of Capote and Moneyball it comes as no surprise that Bennett Miller has chosen yet another true story for his third feature film. With these films in mind, it also comes as no surprise that his ability to focus on an individuals obsession and determination is as intense as he’s proven already.
John du Pont (Steve Carell) is an influential billionaire who takes it upon himself to restore American pride in the sport of Wrestling. To do so, he employs the talents of Olympic freestyle wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). Despite his abilities, Mark has always lived under the shadow of his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) when it comes to the sport and see’s du Pont’s offer as a chance of a lifetime. However, an increasingly strange du Pont eventually hires Dave as well, turning Mark’s experience into a very difficult and life-changing one.
As Moneyball was built in and around the sport of Baseball, Miller chooses to do so again, this time focusing on Wrestling. However, Moneyball was less about the sport itself and more about the individual embroiled in it. The same rules apply in Foxcatcher. Wrestling is only the backdrop to allow him to explore the fractured psyche’s of eccentric multimillionaire John du Pont and his chosen protégé Mark Schultz. As a result, Foxcatcher becomes less of a sports biopic and more of a restrained character study. To compliment that approach, he teases some career best work from his trio of actors. First off, both Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo have managed to gain Oscar nominations for their work here and it’s easy to see why. Normally known for his comedic work, Carell hides under a lot of prosthetic make-up which, at first, is distracting but over time, it’s apparent that his performance towers over and above his enormous hooter and he delivers a work of great subtlety. Carell’s du Pont is a very creepy and manipulative character. A man who’s used to getting what he wants and when that doesn’t happen, the consequences can be dire. Ruffalo, on the other hand, is the understated heart of the piece. As Dave Schultz, he’s a family man with good intentions, his only aim is to succeed in what he’s good at while providing for his wife (Sienna Miller) and young children but also to provide for and support his younger brother, Mark. This is were Channing Tatum comes in. Not normally an actor that I greatly admire, Tatum delivers solid work and can consider himself unlucky not to receive an Oscar nomination along with his co-stars. His whole demeanour and physicality has changed. Cauliflower ears included, he carries himself with the frame of a primate and despite his limited intellect, he has the drive to be the alpha male yet contradictorily displays an infantile vulnerability to the paternal du Pont where Miller also seems to hint at the development of a psycho-sexual relationship.
The psychological interplay between these three different characters is the real driving force behind Miller’s most accomplished film yet. It manages to be a moral commentary on the class divide – the drive and passion of the working class mirrored against the privileged and self-indulgent lifestyles of the wealthy elitists and their vacuous void in truly achieving something meaningful in life. Even du Pont’s rhetoric brings the weighty theme of American exceptionalism.
Despite their lack of money, the love and camaraderie between the Schultz brothers is a richness that du Pont can only dream of but Miller never forces the issue. His deliberate and retrained approach is reflected in his actors as they slowly reveal the layers to their characters and as jealousy and obsession begin to take hold, so does the enormity of the calamitously dysfunctional relationships.
Hugely rich in detail and thoroughly deserving of it’s Oscar nominations (although not to receive a Best Picture nod is an enigma). This is a film that ominously creeps up on you and before you know it, has you in a choke hold from which it’s hard not to submit to. Strong work by all involved.
Trivia: Because the project took so many years to get off the ground, many actors were considered for the lead roles. Heath Ledger, Ryan Gosling and Bill Nighy were strongly considered in the early stages of production.