First-rate Foxcatcher exudes sheer power

by Mark Burger

Like director Bennett Miller’s exceptional 2005 feature debut, Capote, which was itself a true-crime film of sorts, Foxcatcher is a meticulous, methodical study of obsession, hidden impulses and suppressed rage that, almost unexpectedly yet inexorably, comes to a boiling point.

That it’s based on fact only enhances the power of Miller’s achievement.

The story takes place in the 1980s, as Du Pont Chemicals heir John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) taps Olympic gold-medalist wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to run the wrestling program headquartered at his family’s Foxcatcher Ranch in Pennsylvania. Du Pont has a dream to bring home the gold from Seoul in 1988, and he believes Mark can achieve this, thereby bringing them all glory.

There’s something quintessentially American to the story. The desire to win, to be the best or even to be thought of as a winner adds to the tragedy of the story’s eventual, and perhaps inevitable, outcome. Like John du Pont, Mark is looking for something to believe in, yet he’s blind to the bizarre reality unfolding around him and the increasingly obsessive behavior exhibited by du Pont.

Mark Ruffalo plays Mark’s brother Dave, himself an Olympic gold medalist, a man whose innate confidence and self-assurance are lacking in both his brother and du Pont, whom he comes to regard with more skepticism than his troubled sibling.

The glassy-eyed, halting delivery that Carell has exercised in previous comedies is utilized to maximum effect here, only this time the results are unforgettably creepy. John du Pont is a pathetic, pitiful, predatory human being whose wealth further isolates him from reality. Only his mother (Vanessa Redgrave in a knockout appearance) recognizes the extent of his neuroses, yet her dismissive attitude further fuels his insecurities.

Carell and Ruffalo deservedly earned Oscar nominations for their excellent performances (Carell as Best Actor, Ruffalo as Best Supporting Actor), as did Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, but Tatum does some of his best dramatic work to date here. The focus shifts from du Pont to Mark to Dave yet doesn’t miss a beat. Sienna Miller, Guy Boyd and Anthony Michael Hall (yes, indeed) contribute in support, and the film earned a fifth Oscar nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling “” undoubtedly due to the extensive work done on Carell as du Pont.

In addition to being one of 2014’s very best films “” a genuine triumph for all concerned “” Foxcatcher is also a haunting one, its tattered emotions, tragic outcome and sheer resonance lingering long after the end credits have rolled.