Published Nov 28, 2014On the surface, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is pure Oscar-bait. The formula: take a regularly Emmy-snubbed comedic actor (Steve Carell) and a former pretty boy with secret skills (Channing Tatum) and put them in a dark and brooding drama about blind patriotism and the perils of sport.
But there's more to Foxcatcher — a film based on the tumultuous real-life relationship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and his benefactor, John du Pont — than meets the eye.
Carell commands the screen with an almost Kim Jong-un-esque air, flitting between weird statements, copious amounts of cocaine and dazed and confused stares throughout the film's two-hour runtime. He is the perfect American hero — lazy and dumb, but powerful — and Miller wants you to know that, employing clear cinematic metaphors (What's more old-money genteel than catching weak creatures with a fox?) and coercing sardonic statements from his character (du Pont — a self-described ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist, in that order — regularly refers to himself as "the Golden Eagle") to illustrate that point. The fact that Carell is one of the biggest comedic actors of his generation somehow makes his turn as a sinister millionaire even more terrifying, and that's definitely something Miller thought about while casting the character.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all (to some, at least) is Tatum, an actor who has progressed over the years through lowbrow teen dramas, teen comedies and action films, and has now arrived fully formed at a high-minded drama. Taking his skills from the sets of the Step Up movies, as well as more serious fare with the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Tatum moves meticulously through Foxcatcher whether he's on or off the mat; he somehow enhances the art of wrestling alongside supporting actor Mark Ruffalo with his orchestrated and complex movements, while also stealing the scenes right out from under more seasoned actors (Ruffalo and Carell among them) with his pointed, brutal portrayal of a man whose soul is being destroyed by the so-called American Dream.
A story about two men trying to find a connection to humanity through pure skin-on-skin sport may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes simple ideas are the most powerful.