Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher is a hard movie to watch. Next to this, Capote might seem lighthearted. The camera lingers, flatly observing the Foxcatcher farm, picking up interactions almost reluctantly. Then, just as quickly, it cuts away after a single interchange of dialogue, moving to another scene impulsively. The edits are arrhythmic, choppy (deliberately?). You sense that Miller wants to stay at a remove from his characters. The wrestling on screen looks so intimate that every other shared moment feels, in comparison, stultifying.
Only when Mark Schultz is wrestling does he come alive. After winning a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics alongside his brother Dave, Mark receives a call from the wealthy John E. du Pont, who needs a lead trainer for his new wrestling program, to be run on the du Pont estate. Mark and later Dave Schultz both move to the farm to run “Team Foxcatcher” under du Pont’s ever-leering watch. Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman pare the story down to these three men almost exclusively, trapping us inside this unusual triangle of men seeking each other’s love and validation. This is a movie about self-worth, as a man and an athlete, as a son and a brother.
Like Mark, wrestling is John du Pont’s only real livelihood. Steve Carell, who plays du Pont, is expert at du Pont’s unsettling demeanor, with his eerie glazed-over stare and long lapses between words. There are signs of Carell’s sitcom background, like when Dupont tries to impress his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) with a spontaneous and further humiliating wrestling demonstration—nearing the cringe comedy he mastered on The Office. Channing Tatum is really good (not that I’m surprised) as Mark, inexpressive and uncomfortable except in his domain. There’s effort in both of their performances: the mannerisms and makeup take some adjusting to. Mark Ruffalo is more naturalistic; sure, his character’s more easygoing, but Ruffalo injects real flesh-and-blood into Dave Schultz.
Foxcatcher is a rich but brutal hymn to the unattainable and unknowable. Mark is still fighting until the end, grappling for something — maybe it’s permanence — that isn’t bound to happen. We’ll never know the exact motives behind the events of 1996 that the movie leads to, and Miller basks in that irresolute ending. He obscures more than he reveals. The image of Tatum, after Mark loses a match, smashing his forehead into a hotel-room mirror lingers in my head. Like this, Foxcatcher is also violently fragmented, a fascinating and harrowing look inside our delusions.
For Your Consideration: Best Picture; Mark Ruffalo and (why not?) Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, too.