As I sat down to watch "Foxcatcher" tonight, I had no idea it was based on a true story. I knew absolutely nothing about the Schultz brothers or John du Pont. I had no idea that a guy named Mark Schultz won a gold medal for wrestling during the 1984 Olympics. This was all very new to me, and sometimes that can be cool. Sometimes I like to just sit down and let a movie play out for me. All I knew was that the trailer for this movie made the film look incredible, and I could hardly wait to see it.
In the movie "Foxcatcher," Mark Schultz is played by Channing Tatum, Mark's older brother David is played by Mark Ruffalo and John du Pont is played by Steve Carell. It is pretty clear that Tatum, Ruffalo and Carell knew about this true story, as it seemed to me that they very much became these characters, Tatum and Carell in particular. This maybe an odd observation, but pay close attention to the way Tatum and Carell walk in this movie. Yes, I really mean it, pay attention to the way they walk. Neither actor walks as they would normally, there is something very off, yet something very natural in the way each actor walks in the movie. Its awfully clear that both of these actors studied their roles well before filming, and the movie is much richer for it. I must also warn that despite the cast, there is nothing funny about this movie.
As the movie opens, we find Mark Schultz almost drifting through life, rigorously getting ready for the 1988 Olympics, desperate for a second gold medal. All that training is starting to get to him, mentally and maybe even emotionally. It seems he needs a new outlet in life, he just doesn't know what. Then one day, he gets a phone-call out of the blue, by John du Pont of the du Pont family, known as the wealthiest family in America. It seems John du Pont is a wrestling coach, and he wants to prepare Mark for the 1988 Olympics. Without any hesitation, Mark accepts the offer, and moves far away from his brother in order to train. He instantly forms a strong bond with John du Pont, and they seem to gel well as individuals. But due to strange circumstances, that relationship becomes perverted.
"Foxcatcher" is definitely a movie about being under immense pressure. I used to feel pressure before Cross Country races in high school or even Track meets. I can't even imagine what it would be like to train four years for anything in the Olympics. Mark is feeling the pressure about going back and winning another gold medal, while du Pont is drunk on the amount of prestige a gold medal would mean to his family and to his reputation. It is incredibly stressful, and we see how that effects their relationship.
But this movie is also about broken individuals. Mark never really had anybody in his life but his brother, so when he meets John du Pont, he sees this as a new beginning for him in the form of a friendship, and he inadvertently plays a foil for du Pont. We learn that du Pont never really had any friends growing up, so bonding with Mark became important for him. So how do you draw a line between being someone's friend and being someone's coach? Its a powerful question the movie asks, and it asks it well.
Who knew Steve Carell could be so strange, so elevating and so gravitational on-screen. Seriously, every time his character walks onto the set, it seems all the energy gravitates towards him. It's interesting because Carell never really has any long pieces of dialogue, du Pont is mostly made up of small conversations and gestures. But the way Carell plays it off is fascinating, and I think the Academy just found its Best Supporting Actor winner. I don't think you are going to believe how good Carell is, hiding under so much grotesque make-up. He just proved that he can be much more than a family man, and he relishes every moment on the screen. As does Channing Tatum, giving a furious performance, sporting believable cauliflower ear. I feel like Tatum has been revving up for a role like this for a long time, and now that it has finally hit I am completely speechless.
The work done by director Bennett Miller is absolutely stunning. I love how nearly 97% of the scenes in this movie are completely music-less. But when it is time to punctuate a scene with music, composers Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson deliver something that gets under your skin in the most unsuspecting of ways. I love the gritty, grim overview of each scene, which adds to the flavor of the film. But what I loved most was how Miller was able to make a very talky movie feel exciting. I will warn that this is a "talky" movie and not a mechanical sports movie, so if that is not your cup of tea, skip this.
If I were to read the synopsis to this movie, before learning who the cast was, I'd be shocked by it. But this just goes to show why we can never put certain actors into a box and leave them there. Each actor is capable of great range, and Carell and Tatum proved that in a big way throughout "Foxcatcher." The best thing about this movie is watching these two guys simply share the screen with each other. They keep us incredibly engaged with the film's material, and it is all uniquely well done.
FINAL GRADE: A