Foxcatcher, a Mindboggling Drama (Film Review)



If you want to get the most out of the movie Foxcatcher beyond the amazing acting by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo refrain from reading up on the true story. This is not a comedy or an ordinary sports story about being the best, it’s a dramatic event that shocked the world and brought down an empire.

The story opens with Olympic wrestling champion brothers, Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) working on takedown moves in a private gym. Mark has had it tough since winning the Gold in his weight class at the Olympics and works for a fee to speak at school assemblies and assistant coach. Dave manages a gym where he teaches kids how to wrestle. He’s married and has a supportive family. If Mark can win at nationals he will compete in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

Mark Schultz (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) in FOXCATCHER

Mark Schultz (Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Ruffalo) in FOXCATCHER

One day at Dave’s Gym Mark walks in on a meeting taking place between his brother and some sponsors. Not feeling good about what he sees, Mark confronts Dave concerning the implications of the meeting. Mark, although a very good wrestler, has had Dave’s guidance and coaching from the beginning of his involvement in the sport and feels he can succeed without outside help. But without money, independent cost for training is out of the question. When John du Pont (Steve Carell), the owner of du Pont Chemicals, convinces Mark to train at his estate with pay and lodging, Dave and Mark’s bond becomes conflicted.

The film moves along at a pretty nice speed showing the rigorous training, team choices and finally a need for the perfect coach. Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball) works his actors to the bone. Along with their very good acting ability Tatum and Ruffalo put on a realistic wrestling show under Miller’s direction. Some of the combat in their bouts shows with the actual bruises on their skin after every intense match or workout. The practice and matches were choreographed by Olympic wrestler Jesse Jantzen and what you see on the screen is the result of the two actor’s ability to deliver very physical fights.

Steve Carell as John du Pont in FOXCATCHER

Steve Carell as John du Pont in FOXCATCHER

A magnificent performance comes from Steve Carell like you’ve never seen him on screen before. He plays a brooding and very rich John du Pont who’s under his mother’s (Vanessa Redgrave) thumb on anything he tries to do. When he takes on the USA wrestling team as a diversion she becomes skeptical of his ability, but John’s steadfast in trying to prove he can succeed in getting his athletes to win the Nationals and go on to the Olympics. Carell projects this insane determination throughout the film making his challenging character fittingly irascible. Well above his normal comedic profile, the performance should earn him an Academy Award Nomination.

Both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are the key elements in Foxcatcher that make the film work. Tatum has the build of a wrestler and he shows his strength on the screen using his power to provide the realism necessary. His performance outshines many of the actors in supporting roles over the past year. Tatum’s come a long way since Step-up and proved he can act in the film Fighting. Foxcatcher’s another giant step to a higher level indeed.

Carell, Ruffalo, Tatum and Director Bennett Miller on the set of FOXCATCHER

Carell, Ruffalo, Tatum and Director Bennett Miller on the set of FOXCATCHER

Ruffalo, on the other hand blows away any supporting character role this past year. In Foxcatcher he’s the level headed brother who can see a better future for Mark while taking care of his own family. Ruffalo recreates Dave Schultz’s brilliance as a coach, his drive to keep his brother in the race for a second gold medal and his ability to stand up against du Pont’s unbearable personality and unreasonable demands. Look for an Oscar nod for best performance in a supporting role as Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher has been rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence. The film runs more than 2 hours, but the performances and storyline gets so intense that you won’t even notice the build up to its unpredictable ending. Take my word for it, you are better off going to see the film without knowing about these two real life athletes. And, no this is not another “Rocky” sports story.

FINAL ANALYSIS: An intense film that delivers a crushing story. (A)

Additional Film Information:
Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, Daniel Hilt.
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Genre: Biography, Drama, Sports
MPAA Rating:  R for some drug use and a scene of violence
Running Time: 2 hrs 14 min
Release Date: December 12, 2014
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Classics

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