With an Olympic gold medal from the 1984 Olympics to his name, wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is struggling to get by in life. He lives in a small, poorly furnished apartment and lives in the relative shadow of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who similarly won at the '84 Olympics. Growing up, Dave cared for and helped raise Mark so they've always been close, but Mark wants to break out on his own and create a name for himself, not just Dave's brother. Courtesy of the extremely wealthy and quirky John duPont (Steve Carell), Mark just might get that chance. du Pont asks Mark to come train for the upcoming World Championships and '88 Olympics at his expansive home, Foxcatcher Farm. Mark is encouraged by his benefactor's drive and patriotism and agrees, leaving Dave and what he knows behind him. Can he finally be remembered as his own man, not just as the younger Schultz brother?
Some advice from your loyal movie reviewer. If you want to see this movie and don't know the true story, DON'T look into it. Go in unaware. I was aware of the names and some vague things here and there but wasn't sure of where things end up. I recommend you do the same for a stronger viewing experience. That said, I won't give away any major spoilers so continue reading!
This next statement won't sound too positive but here goes just the same. A few weeks ago, I reviewed The Imitation Game, an incredible true story with some great performances that for lack of a better description can be dubbed 'Oscar bait.' From director Bennett Miller (also directed Moneyball and Capote, he likes one-word titles) and based on a true story, 'Foxcatcher' has that same feel, in a good way! Dark, unsettling and foreboding, it is all about the personal drama. This is about the characters and their interactions and their relationships. Miller films his story in almost documentary fashion. He moves the camera as little as possible and uses very little music. Basically, anything that could take away from the very real, often very uncomfortable human drama is thrown by the wayside.
And that's where the Oscar bait comes in. 'Foxcatcher' provides some juicy parts for its three leads, Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell. Again, don't read too much into the real-life people. Just go along for the ride. The odd thing? Both Ruffalo (Best Supporting Actor) and Carell (Best Lead Actor) picked up acting nominations, but I thought Tatum's was the strongest performance of the three. I've come around on Mr. Tatum from a pretty boy actor who couldn't act his way out of a paper bag to an actor who carries the movie for the first hour. Physically, Tatum brings a brooding energy to the part while also bringing Mark Schultz to life. He's looking for support, for someone to have faith in him...besides his brother. It's a fascinating character as we see the depths he'll go to mixed with his persistent nature, his natural talent, and his deep-seeded flaws. Credit to Channing Tatum who continues to show off his dramatic side.
'Foxcatcher' is unique in its storytelling and its portrayal of its main characters. Carell picked up the Best Lead Actor nomination, but at different points, each of the three main actors gets a chance to lead the movie. It's Tatum's movie for the first 60 minutes, Carell's for the next 45 and Ruffalo closes things in the final 30. Carell plays against type in a big way -- no laughs in sight -- as John E. du Pont, a quiet, quirky man who inherited the du Pont fortune and is used to getting his way in everything. His relationship with Tatum's Mark is fascinating to watch develop, just two guys looking for approval from a parent figure. Ruffalo is excellent as Dave, a world-class wrestler looking out for his wife and kids and his brother. Yeah, he's a big brother to Mark, but it's more than that. He's a coach, a brother, a father figure, a sparring partner, a sounding board, all of it. Three excellent performances all around.
With a movie that runs 134 minutes, one of those three is on-screen in just about every scene. There are some other supporting parts worth mentioning including Sienna Miller as Dave's wife, Vanessa Redgrave as John's equally quirky mother, not too forthcoming with ya know, emotions, and Anthony Michael Hall as John's assistant who knows how eccentric his boss can be and tries to warn Mark of that exact thing.
Talk about a movie that I just wasn't sure where it was going or what it was building to. Again, DON'T read too much about the real-life inspiration. Now that said, it doesn't take a genius to deduce that where it's going, well, it ain't going to be too pleasant for at least some of those involved. Boy, was I surprised though. It's that of movie though. All about the drama where you appreciate the roles and the performances, but it isn't necessarily going to be a movie you revisit again and again. Watch it and then read about the true story. Miller's story takes some liberties with timing -- and lack of telling the audience -- in the final act with an ending that was disappointing. It isn't the most well-paced movie, and all the sudden, ta-da! It's over! Still worth it though for the acting performances on display. Curious to see if either Carell or Ruffalo picks up some momentum heading into February's Oscars.
Foxcatcher (2014): ***/****