Bennett Miller has a pretty good track record. His last two films, Capote and Moneyball were both nominated for best picture, for both he was nominated for best director, and for both his main actors were nominated for acting awards. Looks like he’s going to keep the streak alive with Foxcatcher, which is a superbly directed, superbly acted, superbly compelling film.
The film chronicles the relationship between the Mark and Dave Schultz, brothers and olympic and world champion wrestlers, and John du Pont, a reclusive millionaire who offers to fund and direct their training.
Channing Tatum plays the younger brother –Mark– who walks, talks, and broods as while he’s already an olympic champion he has been made to feel like a loser his entire life. When du Pont shows up to of the blue with his offer Mark accepts immediately and asks Dave –played by Ruffalo– to follow. Dave is a family man though and declines.
du Pont himself is played by an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. The prosthetic nose and makeup are one thing, it’s the voice that really does it. du Pont speaks slowly and in starts and stops, miles away from Carells usual rapid fire style. The actors ability to deadpan his way thought ridiculous comedy must have been an advantage too as some of his dialogue is ridiculous (seriously, try say “ornithologist philatelist philanthropist” 10 times quickly, see how far you get) but Carell gets through it all.
It’s when he doesn’t speak that is most effective though, in the pauses between lines or the scenes where he barely speaks at all, Carell brings something else to the character and we’re able to see from his first scene that there’s something not quite right there, something broken, angry, and malevolent. The reasons for this aren’t explored fully but a complex but seemingly loveless relationship between du Pont and his mother is heavily alluded to.
Carell isn’t alone in the acting department though. Channing Tatum is at his best in roles that require physicality but this is easily the most emotionally heavy and complicated role of his career to date and he handles it basically perfectly. Ruffalo as the endearing family man does his part also as a simultaneous brother and father figure to the younger Mark, Dave Shultz is less complicated but far more empathetic.
It’s important to remember for a moment that this is based on a true story, too. I say this because though I didn’t know all the details I was familiar with the story going into this movie. There’s an event at the films climax that –even though I knew it was coming– was entirely effective and affecting. I don’t know if she knew it was coming but one woman in my screening actually screamed when it happened, that’s how well directed this movie is.
Miller’s style has always been “show don’t tell” and there are so many little touches, so many minor character details which Miller trusts the audience to notice for themselves, which is entirely refreshing and really heightens the emotional punch of not only that climactic event but the entire movie.
Foxcatcher is a great movie. A solid, well directed story anchored by three fantastic performances. There are no more showings at VIFF but it goes into wide release on 19th November and you should definitely add it to your “must see” list, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t end up with nominations in basically every major category in all the big award shows for this year.