This might be the feel-bad movie of the year, but it’s also one of the best. And it’s not one of those films that’s mean and nasty, like a Lars Von Trier flick (or that damn thing I watched last year with the electrocuted horse; I was so depressed after that I don’t think I could muster the energy to write a review,) it’s just a film where not a single good thing happens to anybody, from the first minute to the last. Now, you’re sold, aren’t you? You’re going to run out and RedBox this one right away.
But it is a very good movie, and one I’d recommend. Even more than “Snowpiercer,” this one is about the way the upper class exploits and feeds on the lower class. But this is based on a true story.
Channing Tatum plays Mark Schulz, in an internal, brooding, intense performance that I previously wouldn’t have thought possible from Tatum, who always before exudes confidence and charm on the screen. That’s all gone here; he has always lived in his brother Dave’s shadow, and resents him for it. He’s a gold medal wrestler, but his brother (played by Mark Ruffalo) gets the speaking engagement and special meetings, and nobody knows who Mark Schultz is, despite the gold around his neck.
So when John DuPont (a completely unrecognizable Steve Carrell) approaches him about putting together a wrestling team to take gold at the next Olympics, he sees a chance to get out from under his brother’s shadow and make a name for himself. DuPont and Mark Schultz set up Foxcatcher farms, a state-of-the-art wrestling facility, and recruit the most talented wrestlers to come and train there. But something is rotten in the state of Denmark. DuPont knows almost nothing about wrestling, but loves to take the credit for any success Schultz experiences; he writes speeches for his protege in which Schultz finds himself introducing DuPont as “the father I never had.” DuPont also introduces him to cocaine, and Schultz stands by and watches and DuPont enters the wrestling ring himself, and his lackeys pay his opponents to let him win.
The final blow comes when, after a disappointing performance at Worlds, DuPont smacks Mark Schultz upside the head and then calls in his brother Dave to right the ship (which may or may not have needed righting.) Dave happily joins the team, helps his brother get cleaned up and focused back on wrestling, but there’s nothing he’s going to be able to do to repair the relationship between Mark and DuPont.
Dave Schulz is really the center of the film; he is essentially the guy that both Schulz and DuPont want to be. He is the charismatic leader that Mark would like to be, he’s also the naturally inspiring leader and coach that DuPont would like to be. So of course you know something terrible has to happen to him before the credits roll.
Everything about this film is top-notch. It’s probably the best-acted film of 2014; Ruffalo, Carrell and Tatum all deliver career-defining performances. The direction is subtle but effective; this is a deceptively complicated and difficult story to tell, but director Bennett Miller consistently makes choices to serve the story and stay out of its way. I think this takes more skill than the kind of flashy direction that won Innaritu the Oscar this year. From beginning to end, from top to bottom, “Foxcatcher” is quietly, devastatingly, one of the best films of the year. Don’t overlook it.