Proving once and for all that wrestling is the creepiest of all sports, ‘Foxcatcher’ offers a darkly twisted take on the awards bait picture. It’s a handsomely mounted production filled with movie stars acting hard for statues and has a tone that screams “Importance!” But it’s also just plain weird… in a good way.
For director Bennett Miller, arriving at TIFF with an awards season contender based on a true story isn’t particularly a surprise. The man delivered both ‘Capote’ and ‘Moneyball’ in previous years. However, ‘Foxcatcher’ is a deeply bizarre and unexpected movie from the director in a wonderful way. It’s based on the true story of eccentric (to say the least) billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), who inexplicably became so obsessed with Olympic gold medal-winning wrestling brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) that he paid for them to train and manage a wrestling team full time on his vast estate. Then du Pont’s obsession grew from mildly creepy into psychotic as he claimed publicly to be their coach, had documentaries commissioned about his genius, and eventually murdered David. It’s such a strange story that it could only be true. Miller shoots it in muted colors and pregnant silences that gradually build simmering suspense.
At times, the director’s measured approach sucks the life out of a lively and oddball story, and the actors’ showcase devolves into a game of “Who can act the hardest?” But for the most part, ‘Foxcatcher’ works. Carell will likely score the most attention for his role due to the unlikely stunt casting. He’s undeniably creepy, yet the best work comes from Tatum as a tortured and none-too-bright wayward wrestler and Ruffalo’s subtly frightened lone bastion of sanity.
The film has hints of commentary about athletic sponsorship and plenty of moments of quiet contemplation, yet ‘Foxcatcher’ works best when Miller loosens the reins for insane scenes like helicopter coke parties and marathon binging. Sure, the overall quiet structure lets the big moments explode in a more dramatic manner, but it’s a shame that a director more confident with excess couldn’t mount this wacko story instead. Still, that’s criticizing a film that doesn’t exist. The one that does is such a wonderfully strange movie that we should be grateful. That it sounds and feels so much like a boilerplate Oscar film is almost misdirection and will surely lull uncomfortable audiences into a story they never thought they’d experience.