When you hear that Steve Carell and Channing Tatum are starring in a movie together, you don’t expect it to be one of the most somber dramas of the year. Of course, Foxcatcher has been hyped for…well, a very long time. It was considered an Oscar contender last year as it was originally supposed to come out December 2013, but it was delayed so they had more time to finish it. Once it finally premiered at Cannes in May, the hype has continued all year.
Director Bennett Miller actually won the Best Director prize at the festival, and while he directs this competently, he really makes Foxcatcher an actors’ showcase. This isn’t necessarily a movie about plot, but more about watching the characters deal with each other in a high-stakes situation.
Channing plays Mark Schultz, a wrestler who won gold at the Olympics and other world championships, but still lived in the shadow of his equally-accomplished wrestler brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Mark is approached by a multimillionaire philanthropist John du Pont (Steve Carell), who wants to help train Mark and his brother at his mansion…oh, and fit the bill. Dave turns down the offer, but Mark wants to use the opportunity to escape his brother’s shadow.
Knowing the ending of the story (since this is based on a true story) probably gave me a different perspective on the proceedings. It slowly builds to its inevitable conclusion, and it’s fascinating watching Steve Carell create this performance. Carell has been delivering great work for years, and this is his best yet. He manages to be awkward yet scary, powerful yet mousy, weak yet strong. It’s a completely unpredictable performance, and it’s amazing how quietly he can make you feel uneasy. This is by no means an explosive performance, but it feels that way. What an accomplishment.
It’s hard to compete against a performance like that, but Channing Tatum does the best work of his career as well as the naive, determined Mark. It is odd that Mark is the main focus of the film until the last third where he fades into the background. Mark Ruffalo has picked up Golden Globe and SAG nominations for his performance (and now seems like an inevitable Oscar nominee), but he didn’t have enough meaty material here to blow me away.
The story feels a little procedural, and I found the ending rather cold, lacking the impact that it needed, especially when the whole film seems to be building towards it, but Foxcatcher features some of the best performances of the year.