I’ve been writing about this mesmerizing masterwork since it debuted on the festival circuit in May. Now in wide release, the hypnotic and haunting Foxcatcher can prove its worth as one of the year’s very best films. Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo give the performances of their lives. And director Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) hits a new peak as he takes a scalpel to the privileged worlds of Olympic sports and inherited wealth.
A revelatory Tatum plays Mark Schultz, winner of an Olympic gold medal for wrestling in 1984, but still dwarfed by the shadow of his older brother Dave (Ruffalo in top form). Dave also has the gold, plus a wife (Sienna Miller), two kids and the social graces Mark lacks. Enter John du Pont (Carell), the Pennsylvania blueblood who offers to take in single, shy Mark at his Foxcatcher farm and train him for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Du Pont also lives in a shadow, that of his wheelchair-bound mother (Vanessa Redgrave, expressing a lifetime of disapproval with simply a glance).
What happens next is a matter of public record. A family unravels. A murder takes place. But Miller, working from a quietly devastating script by Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, exposes the diseased underbelly of American exceptionalism. Carell, sporting a fake nose and an elitist whisper, does the same. It’s a tricky, triumphant portrayal, a tour de force of slow-burning menace. Carell is perfection. So is Foxcatcher, a unique and unforgettable psychological thriller that knocks the ground out from under you.