Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in Foxcatcher (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)
★★★½ (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Bennett Miller
STARS Steve Carell, Channing Tatum
With a tip of the hat in the direction of Langston Hughes, let it be noted that Foxcatcher isn’t so much a study of a dream deferred but of the American Dream deferred.
Director Bennett Miller and writer Dan Futterman, who previously worked together on Capote, reunite (with co-scripter E. Max Frye along for good measure) on another true-life horror tale, this one related with the same sense of clinical detachment as their previous triumph. At heart a film about the awkward dance between the haves and have-nots — and, more specifically, a brutal condemnation of the barely masked disdain the one-percenters have for the other 99 — this finds Steve Carell cast waaay against type as John du Pont, scion of one of the most prominent and wealthiest families in the nation. A meek and strange character charged with a patriotic zeal, John pushes aside one passion — ornithology — and begins using his vast fortune to build a team of world-class wrestlers. To anchor the group, he picks 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an opportunity that seems like a godsend to the struggling athlete. But John’s paranoid-schizophrenic nature soon gets the better of him, and he humiliates Mark by inviting his saintly older brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), also a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, to take over as head of the team. From there, the tensions only mount, leading to a shocking crime that’s completely unexpected but perhaps also unavoidable.
As John du Pont, a rich nerd longing to be not just an inspirational figure but also one of the boys (and maybe be with the boys), Carell is scary-good, subjugating all traces of the familiar comic spark very much in evidence in his previous films. Ruffalo is effortlessly reassuring as the big brother who would be a benefit to any family, while Tatum reaches a new plateau as the troubled kid simply wanting life to give him a break. Like Carell, Tatum is required to suppress his natural charm — it’s a knockout performance, fully in line with a movie that feels like a body slam to the mat.