Ambition and money make for a dangerous mix in new Bennett Miller film
Miller’s long-awaited third film showcases dark and powerful performances in a thrilling, true American tragedy
Director Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Siena Miller, and Vanessa Redgrave
Based on a true story, Foxcatcher tells the story of schizophrenic millionaire John E. du Pont (Steve Carell) and his involvement with Olympic Gold medalists David (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum). Du Pont, heir to the du Pont chemical company, invites Mark, who has been living under his older brother’s shadow, to train for the 1988 Olympics at his private horse breeding farm, Foxcatcher. Powered by family feuds, personal ambitions and strong performances, Foxcatcher is a thrilling recount of an American tragedy.
Du Pont’s invitation surprises the siblings. “What does he get out of all of this?” asks David, the more mature of them, skeptically. “America winning” answers Mark, lured by du Pont’s patriotic speech. But what he doesn’t know is that du Pont himself, in his deluded vision of the world, has ambitions of his own.
He wants to impress his mother, who has filled every shelf of their mansion with beautiful trophies earned by her Welsh ponies. In a strange way, du Pont treats the athletes as the horses bred at Foxcatcher. In one scene he exhibits Schulz as a trophy to other wealthy men, saying “Have you ever met an Olympic Gold medalist?” He believes himself patriot whose mission is to restore hope in the American people.
The movie has many darkly comedic moments of the bombastic du Pont interlaced with the dramatic backdrop. In a particularly memorable scene, while riding a helicopter to a dinner party, du Pont introduces Mark to cocaine. “Straight down the nose” he says casually. These scenes are comical, not by intention of the writers, but because the events themselves are ludicrous and truly highlight du Pont’s vain and demented personality.
Yet the film skips a number of years between events, leaving many unanswered questions. For instance, it is unclear how du Pont convinced David to coach the National team in Foxcatcher when he had previously rejected the offer to train there. Similarly, the film makes a large jump from 1988 to 1996, the year in which du Pont assassinates David Schulz. I imagine these gaps arose from large edits during post-production. The film was rumored to originally last over three and a half hours, a little over a third of its final duration of two hours and ten minutes.
The story relies heavily on the strengths of its cast. Steve Carell’s performance is both frightening and opaque, which diverges from previous roles such as that of a clumsy weatherman (Anchorman) or a tender geek (40 Year Old Virgin). While this is not his first dramatic role, it definitely marks his darkest turn to date as the eccentric billionaire with delusions of grandeur. He is unrecognizable under a large amount of make up, a prosthetic nose and constant heavy breathing.
He is at times very soft spoken and inspiring, and at others irascible and volatile. Carell deftly conveys the removal from reality that characterizes du Pont’s schizophrenia. Channing Tatum offers a window into the troubled mind of Mark Schulz, a young man who is obsessed with beating his brother and will stop at nothing. Mark Ruffalo delivers a caring and forgiving performance as David, almost as if he were a father to his brother Mark. Vanessa Redgrave, who plays du Pont’s mother, and Siena Miller, who plays David’s wife, round out this spectacular cast. Suffice to say that the trio of Carell, Ruffalo, and Tatum are strong contenders for Oscar nominations.
This buzz shouldn’t be a surprise to those familiar with Bennett Miller’s work. Miller previously directed Phillip Seymour Hoffman to his Academy Award win in Capote, and three other actors (Brad Pitt, Catherine Keener and Jonah Hill) have earned nominations from participation in his works. Foxcatcher also reunites Miller with Capote’s screenwriter, Dan Futterman. I expect this movie to be a top contender at the Academy Awards.