Bennett Miller's third feature film concerns the true life story of billionaire John E. Du Pont, who murdered Olympic champion wrestler Dave Schultz in 1996. A classy; bleak; and utterly gripping portrait which boasts a remarkably off type- although still quite funny- performance from Steve Carell.
Channing Tatum plays Dave's younger brother Mark, a gold medal wrestler himself who has always struggled to escape his older sibling's shadow. He's in between championships, training daily and struggling to get by. One day he receives an invitation from John Du Pont (Carrell in prosthetic nose and mumbling tone)to meet him on his family's Foxcatcher farm where the athlete is offered a cozy new set of affairs if he is willing to train for the Foxcatcher team. Du Pont speaks in American hyperbole, seducing his prize with talk of heroism, patriotism and all that bag. At first the billionaire hopes to lure both brothers to the team but, when told Dave can't be bought, settles instead for Mark.
Du Pont fancies himself as some sort of leader of men but he's a full blooded charlatan (not to mention an out of shape one too). He's no sort of coach at all in fact but still the two unloved characters form a strange bond. It almost boarders on Behind the Candelabra at times- confined to each other's company; Schultz slowly losing his way to drugs and booze- that is until Du Pont's mother dearest (a reliably disapproving Vanessa Redgrave) arrives on the screen and the wayward son's intentions become immediately clear. DuPont blows a fuse and, with new-found determination, lures Dave to the team too. Shit promptly connects with fan.
With Capote and Moneyball already in the bag, Foxcatcher represents an almost eye watering hat trick of debut films (not to mention snappy one-word titles) for the director. Miller picks his true life subjects with a stiletto sharp intelligence, always with great fascination, never afraid to wade into the darker recesses of the American psyche. Foxcatcher is a fine meditation on ruthless competitiveness, but more acutely of the mind of its cold blooded killer. As the trailers suggested, Steve Carell is a revelation in the role. Playing against type to the Nth degree, his pitiful brat billionaire is a frightening creation and a sure game changer for the affable star.
Perhaps most interesting is how Miller decides to use his story’s focal moment. Every synopsis leading up to this release has been quick to mention Du Pont's crime and the knowing alone is profoundly powerful, not least in the scenes between Du Pont and Mark Ruffalo's Dave. The results are bleak, incredibly tense and really quite brilliant. Will it start a conversation on audience obsession with spoilers? We doubt it, but perhaps it’s time we do.
We feel we’ll be mulling this one over for days. It's safe to presume that awards for Carel will follow, although with Spall’s J.M.W. Turner in the race, perhaps they won't start here. Whatever the case, the Monday sky hangs fittingly bleak over the Croisette today...