BASED ON THE SHOCKING TRUE STORY.
“I think all comedians are dark”, said director Bennett Miller during a press conference at this year’s Cannes film festival, where his film Foxcatcher was screened. This is no surprise. After all, it’s only been a few months since Robin Williams committed suicide. Even those, perhaps especially those, who earn their fortune by making us laugh have tortured souls. In this film, Steve Carell apparently looked deep into his own and came up with what it took to deliver a deliciously dark portrait of a pathetic man.
After winning gold medals at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, the Schultz brothers, Mark and Dave (Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo), are still wrestling. Dave’s life is stable, with a wife and kids, but his younger brother is struggling. One day, he’s contacted by the eccentric John E. du Pont (Carell) and flown to his Pennsylvania estate where the millionaire offers Mark a chance to train at his new wrestling facilities with the aim of competing at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Everything is fully funded and Mark considers this the chance he’s been looking for.
Du Pont also wants Dave as part of what he calls “Team Foxcatcher”, but Dave tells Mark that he can’t just uproot his family and move to Pennsylvania. Disappointed, Mark turns his back on his brother and grows closer to du Pont – for good and bad.
Back in the same field
Bennett Miller broke through as a filmmaker with Capote (2005), the story of how Truman Capote went to Kansas looking for the human story behind a brutal triple murder. With this film, Miller is back in the same field with another mystery-shrouded case ripped from the headlines. It was in 1996 that du Pont, seemingly for no reason, shot Dave Schultz to death; the millionaire was later deemed to be a paranoid schizophrenic.
Miller and his writers approach the story in a similar way as Capote where they stay true to what we know as closely as possible – even to the extent where Ruffalo, a former wrestler himself, had to painfully relearn every move to realistically get closer to Dave Schultz’s style. Carell studied everything he could find on du Pont and is almost unrecognizable thanks to a few extra pounds, a prosthetic nose, teeth and makeup. Cinematographer Greig Fraser creates an icy, uncomfortable look for the film that suits the uneasy relationship between the characters and the profound tragedy of both du Pont and Mark’s lives. When the film veers from what we know to speculation (or possibly Mark’s perspective, since he’s an associate producer), the filmmakers balance between what seems credible and what’s not being said at all – some will undoubtedly find the film frustrating as du Pont remains in some ways an elusive figure. But the immense burden of living up to expectations, those of our society and those of our family, becomes a clear theme.
Miller tells his true-crime story in a measured manner, slowly and carefully. The emotions are contained in the devastating performances of its three leads who do some of their best work yet. Ruffalo and Tatum worked so hard physically to make us believe in their characters’ Olympic past, and especially the latter is brilliant as the working-class kid who is easily manipulated.
Some might think that Carell simply pulls a Nicole Kidman from The Hours (2002), but there’s a lot more to his work here than a fake nose. Fans of The Office (2005-2013) know how effective Carell can be in scenes where his character has power but few social skills and still try to “hang” with the guys. He does it here again – but reaches an awesome new level of creepiness and sadness.
Foxcatcher 2014-U.S. 134 min. Color. Produced by Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller. Directed by Bennett Miller. Screenplay: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman. Cinematography: Greig Fraser. Cast: Steve Carell (John E. du Pont), Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz), Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall.
Trivia: At different stages, Heath Ledger, Ryan Gosling, Bill Nighy and Gary Oldman were considered for the leads.
Cannes: Best Director.
Last word: “I naturally sympathize with people, especially when someone is [as] far gone [as du Pont]. He is a tragic figure. When I did ‘Capote’, my feeling was, I was taking a tip from the way Capote wrote the book, that Perry Smith was a tragic figure. Yes, it was tragic and horrific that this family was murdered. But this guy was tragic too. That’s not always an easy or popular stance to express, but I have a unique gift of feeling bad for everybody. I want to know how you got to that place.” (Miller, Deadline)