Foxcatcher begins by establishing the wrestler Mark Schultz's (Channing Tatum) sad state of affairs. The first day on screen consists of him giving a speech to elementary students, crunching ramen noodles into a bowl, and staring at a wall. Obviously, things went down hill after his gold metal at the 1984 Olympics (he and his brother both won golds as Mark mentions many times throughout the film). Then, as they say, everything changes when he gets a call from John du Pont (Steve Carell), a member of the Du Pont family. John offers Mark a place on his wrestling team on the titular farm. He speaks of being a patriot and what the nation should do for its wrestlers. Mark is obviously wooed by these statements. Since he and his brother, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), are close, he discusses the offer with him. Mark ultimately decides to join John du Pont on the farm.
I've known about this film since November of 2013 when they decided to postpone the release. A first, I wasn't exactly excited because the names behind it didn't thrill me. I'd never seen Channing Tatum in anything, Mark Ruffalo wasn't anybody but "that guy who played the Hulk in The Avengers," and Bennett Miller wasn't a proven director in my eyes. On the other hand, I was a big fan of Steve Carell's because of The Office, but I wouldn't really call that a dramatic performance (at all). A month later, I saw Stranger Than Fiction and The Truman Show, and realized that a comedian can make a good transition to drama. Some could argue that he already did with Little Miss Sunshine. I then saw Tatum in 21 Jump Street and Ruffalo in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. My level of anticipation was raised.
Then I saw Foxcatcher.
Carrell took my expectations, threw them to the ground, and shot them three times. In other words, his acting blew me out of the water. When he was on screen, it wasn't Steve Carrell. It was John du Pont. He was John du Pont in looks and manner. I'd like to note that I haven't compared the real John du Pont and Foxcatcher's version nor have I seen much footage of John du Pont. Exact accuracy with John's mannerisms was not necessarily needed. What Carrell did was embody the character behind John du Pont: a disturbed, spoiled, mentally unstable man.
Even though I just praised Carrell's du Pont to the utmost degree, I believe Mark Ruffalo one-upped him. Ruffalo's Dave Schultz is a much more nuanced performance. His feelings toward a subject could still be identified even though their subtler than his counterparts'. That is not to say that Carrell's feelings were blatantly obvious. Furthermore, John du Pont's depiction benefitted from this somewhat emotionally open outlook anyways because that is what type of character du Pont is. By saying that Ruffalo "one-upped" Carrell, I'm saying that Ruffalo's performance was more difficult to achieve because he had to hide his emotion to the characters around him but not to the audience.
Part of what makes this movie great is the relationship between the Schultz brothers. Dave basically raised Mark when they were younger, so they were very close. Conversations between the two of them felt very organic and dynamic. In the very first scene, the movie planted the seeds of Mark's resentment towards his brother because he felt that his brother was the one who lead him to everything he had achieved in life. He didn't feel independent in his achievements; everything he did owed to his brother. The movie built off of this inferiority complex. On top of that, Mark struggled with having only one talent (wrestling) which was overshadowed by others including his brother ("Dave's my brother. We both have golds.") If he wasn't the best at the only thing he was good at, he wasn't anything. He felt he found in John du Pont someone that appreciated his abilities. Channing Tatum successfully portrayed Mark's inward struggle and deterioration as a wrestler and a human being. John du Pont wanted both brothers to come to Foxcatcher Farm, but only Mark came, making du Pont aggravated and impatient because he was used to getting what he wanted and Dave denied him of his request. This made something he and Mark could relate over. The power struggle between Dave and du Pont, the brotherly relationship between Dave and Mark, and the strange semi-friendship, semi-mentorship between du Pont and Mark, increased tension among the trio. Two hours and ten minutes of Foxcatcher built on this tension until the haunting, chilling, and depressing finale in the last four minutes. It's worth staring at a blank wall for those two hours if you get to see those last four minutes.
All I have discussed in my review is the performances of three actors and one theme within this epic (yes, I used the word "epic," and I don't use it often), haunting masterpiece. I didn't go into detail about Channing Tatum's performance, and I didn't even mention Vanessa Redgrave (du Pont's mother), Sienna Miller (Dave's wife), or the surprisingly-creative cinematography.
From the outside, Foxcatcher doesn't seen to have much going on. It might just seem like a slow-burning borefest filled with homoerotic wrestling scenes. Look inside and you'll find a carefully crafted and well-executed character study that truly understands its subjects and humanity as a whole.