Festival audiences from Cannes to Toronto have had the good fortune to get a sneak peek at Foxcatcher, one of the year's top Oscar contenders. It's the new one from Bennett Miller, whose previous films include award-magnets Capote and Moneyball. This is another stranger-than-fiction tale that ought to send you straight from the theater to the Internet to look for corroborating stories. (As someone who already did this — yeegads! — pretty much everything in this movie is true.)
The story concerns a pair of Olympic wrestlers, the Schultz Brothers, who find themselves living at the compound of a wealthy new sponsor whose odd behavior slides from weird to dangerous. The film and its stars Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell — yes, that Steve Carrell — are shoo-ins for all sorts of end of the year nominations, but there are plenty of reasons to check out this movie other than keeping your Oscar cards up to date. In fact, we've got 8 of them.
The southern dancer-turned-actor took a roundabout route to respectability. First seen in the background of a Ricky Martin video, early Tatum had the looks but not quite the screen charisma. He was upstaged by pretty much everyone in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, including characters that spoke no lines and had face-covering masks. Then came a clutch Saturday Night Live performance and his self-effacing role in 21 Jump Street. His turn in Steven Soderbergh Magic Mike, somewhat inspired by his actual stripping experiences in Florida, showed previously unseen range. With this role as an Olympic wrestler striving to achieve personal glory in Foxcatcher, he continues to play to his strength as a formidable physical presence, making his character Mark Schultz one of the best “gentle giants” in recent film memory.
The always likable Ruffalo plays Mark Shultz's older brother Dave. He, too, is an Olympic wrestler, but one with a better head for business and a family to support. Foxcatcher shows how siblings can love one another but still sometimes have a rivalry that extends into adulthood. It's made all the more problematic when a new person enters the equation. Ruffalo's Mark is the least showy of the three main roles in the film, but his easy, tender performance is the one that leaves the biggest punch to the heart.
Yes, the dope from The Daily Show and The Office and The 40 Year-Old Virgin is wearing a prosthetic nose and trying to play a serious part. For about a minute-and-a-half it is hard to take him seriously but then it'll hit you that he's the perfect choice for John du Pont. Carell's creepy, eccentric boyish billionaire is a remarkable, 180-degree tweak of an audience's perception. Think of Peter Sellers in Being There. That we expect Carell to be a source of goofy fun traps us in a sense of unease, just as he, the deep-pocketed benefactor, casts a net over the Schultz brothers looking for a financier.
The du Pont Family
If the name du Pont sounds familiar, it's because it is interwoven into the very founding fabric of this country. One of America's royal families, the du Ponts (and their company, DuPont) made their fortune with weapons, ammunition and industrial chemicals. Foxcatcher affords us some fascinating snoopin' around time in their mansion and helicopters — a peek into a life of inherited and corrosive privilege that turns ugly and more diseased with time. There's nothing in this movie that could be seen as good PR for the family. Except for maybe their taste in interior design. (The homes never hide the wealth, but they maintain a degree of tact about it.)
It's important to remember that “pro” wrestling is fake, but wrestling – just wrestling – is real. And difficult. It's not a sport that gets a lot of TV time (once every four years at the Olympics is just about it) but Foxcatcher shows the diligence and drive it takes to become an ace at this ancient competition. It isn't just two guys wriggling around on the floor, although Bennett Miller leaves enough ambiguity to imply that maybe John du Pont decided to sponsor the Schultz brothers because he thought that was all there was to it.
Money Can't Buy You Love
Chances are that anyone reading this will, in a few hours, have to go schlep to work. Or maybe you are reading it at work hoping the boss won't see you. Either way, at some point or another we've all had that wish that we were “to the manor born,” with a wealth beyond words. This movie is another reminder that unfettered access to the Do Re Mi doesn't automatically bring happiness. In fact, being the heir to one of the richest families in the world might actually bring nothing but grief. (I know, I know … we'd all like to be in a position to confirm this theory for a little while. But until that happens, movies like this make it easier.)
Let's Go To The Videotape
A recurring plot point in Foxcatcher is Carell's character's drive to shoot a promotional tape for his beloved wrestling team. The movie-within-a-movie is a wonderful and embarrassing reminder of just how wretched home video editing looked back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The kids today with their iMovie don't know how we suffered.
Return to #Team
The one and only thing that's missing from our public sphere since the end of Twilight was the goofy proclamations of being #TeamEdward or #TeamJacob. The phrase “Team Foxcatcher” is used an awful lot in this film. Sure, it doesn't involve a hashtag, and it makes story sense (they are actually a team and Foxcatcher is the name of the du Pont farm/compound they are training at), but it still made me smile every time.