With amazing performances by Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, this haunting biopic of two Olympic athlete brothers screams two words: Oscar bait.
Festival audiences from Cannes to Toronto have had the good fortune to get a sneak peek at Foxcatcher, one of the year’s top Oscar contenders. It’s the new one from Bennett Miller, whose previous films include award-magnets Capote and Moneyball. This is another stranger-than-fiction tale that ought to send you straight from the theater to the Internet to look for corroborating stories. (As someone who already did this — yeegads! — pretty much everything in this movie is true.)
The story concerns a pair of Olympic wrestlers, the Schultz Brothers, who find themselves living at the compound of a wealthy new sponsor whose odd behavior slides from weird to dangerous. The film and its stars Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell — yes, that Steve Carrell — are shoo-ins for all sorts of end of the year nominations, but there are plenty of reasons to check out this movie other than keeping your Oscar cards up to date. In fact, we’ve got 8 of them.
The southern dancer-turned-actor took a roundabout route to respectability. First seen in the background of a Ricky Martin video, early Tatum had the looks but not quite the screen charisma. He was upstaged by pretty much everyone in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, including characters that spoke no lines and had face-covering masks. Then came a clutch Saturday Night Live performance and his self-effacing role in 21 Jump Street. His turn in Steven Soderbergh Magic Mike, somewhat inspired by his actual stripping experiences in Florida, showed previously unseen range. With this role as an Olympic wrestler striving to achieve personal glory in Foxcatcher, he continues to play to his strength as a formidable physical presence, making his character Mark Schultz one of the best “gentle giants” in recent film memory.
The always likable Ruffalo plays Mark Shultz’s older brother Dave. He, too, is an Olympic wrestler, but one with a better head for business and a family to support. Foxcatcher shows how siblings can love one another but still sometimes have a rivalry that extends into adulthood. It’s made all the more problematic when a new person enters the equation. Ruffalo’s Mark is the least showy of the three main roles in the film, but his easy, tender performance is the one that leaves the biggest punch to the heart.
Yes, the dope from The Daily Show and The Office and The 40 Year-Old Virgin is wearing a prosthetic nose and trying to play a serious part. For about a minute-and-a-half it is hard to take him seriously but then it’ll hit you that he’s the perfect choice for John du Pont. Carell’s creepy, eccentric boyish billionaire is a remarkable, 180-degree tweak of an audience’s perception. Think of Peter Sellers in Being There. That we expect Carell to be a source of goofy fun traps us in a sense of unease, just as he, the deep-pocketed benefactor, casts a net over the Schultz brothers looking for a financier.