Within every unbalanced power dynamic, there are two points of view that can never see eye to eye no matter how united they may appear. The reasons a soldier may enlist have nothing to do with why wars are declared. A worker may enjoy their job, but their interests will never be fully aligned with the CEO of the company. And when two people declare themselves patriots—one a destitute Olympic gold medalist, the other a member of one of the most elite, privileged, and powerful dynasties in American history—the appearance of agreement is in reality anything but.
This is the dynamic explored in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, featuring Channing Tatum as broke Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz and Steve Carell as pampered billionaire John du Pont. Schultz is lured into du Pont’s world by flowery talk of America’s greatness and wrestling’s value to the nation, and by his enormous wealth. Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic gold medalist, is apprehensive of this strange man’s sudden generosity, but wishes Mark well even as du Pont’s behavior become increasingly strange.
If your only memories of the events that inspired Foxcatcher are vague impressions of tabloid headlines from decades ago, good. The best way to experience the film is with the sense that something will go horribly wrong without knowing how, why, when, or to whom. Naturally, du Pont’s motives for his unprompted patronage are as pathological as they are patriotic, and he has spent a lifetime fostering the sort of messianic complex only a society of other billionaires would tolerate. Meanwhile, Mark’s feelings of inferiority inspire excellence while threatening his natural talent as his insecurities make him more of du Pont’s plaything than his beneficiary.
Miller’s tense, slow boil is bolstered by strong performances of A-list actors playing against type. Ruffalo shows a physicality we’ve never seen before, while Tatum’s swagger has been reduced to a sulk as he portrays a man constantly living in someone else’s shadow who is only good at one thing. Casting Steve Carell may see like a stunt, but he delivers a performance far deeper than your average funnyman-gone-serious award bait, partially because he seems to understand the grotesque fish out of water comedy lurking under the surface of an intense character study.
Though based on a true story ripped from the tabloids, Miller’s vision is an effective mediation on power and exploitation. Simultaneously tragic, darkly funny, and the most slyly incisive indictment of empty patriotism in recent memory, there is no shortage of angles from which to appreciate Foxcatcher.
FOXCATCHER | RATED R | IN THEATERS NOW
BONUS FEATURES: STREAMS
CAPOTE (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon)
Bennett Miller’s background in documentary filmmaking is no doubt what makes his knack for docudrama seem so natural. Capote and Foxcatcher both share a respect for facts without being beholden to rote recitation of a true story; interestingly, in this case, Truman Capote’s writing of his most famous nonfiction book, In Cold Blood. Bolstered by one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s most memorable performances, this movie proves that Miller knows when an artistic flourish is of more service to the truth than a literal reenactment.
VISION QUEST (Netflix, iTunes, Amazon)
Vision Quest is that sort of movie, very specific to the 1980s, that makes it difficult to figure out whether or not the thing is any good but that you distinctly remember years later. It follows a very young Matthew Modine as a high school wrestler who, in an effort to accomplish something significant, attempts to drop two weight classes. Meanwhile, he develops feelings for a boarder in his home (a very young Linda Fiorentino), throwing off his focus and making him question his perspective about what truly matters.