If nothing g else “Foxcatcher,” a true-life crime drama from Bennett Miller, director of “Moneyball,” is an exercise in the transformative nature of an under bite. Jutting out his jaw changes Channing Tatum from movie star handsome to thick-necked gym rat Mark Schultz, one third of a story of murder and America’s wealthiest family.
Based on true events, the story begins with Schultz, a gold medal-winning wrestler at the 1984 Olympics, training with his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) to regain the glory of his past achievements. Out of the blue he is contacted by John du Pont (Steve Carell), multi-millionaire and sports enthusiast with a simple but grand offer. The patriotic du Pont asks Schultz to put together a team of wrestlers, who would train at a special facility at Foxcatcher Farms and establish America’s dominance at the upcoming Seoul Olympics. Schultz signs for $25,000 a year–“I just said the highest number in my head.”—beginning a journey that will end in world championship glory and murder.
Even though this is a true story that more or less follows the public record of events I’ve left the synopsis vague so as not to spoil the film’s climax. In doing so I also failed to mention the growing sense of alienation and the slow burn of psychological dysfunction. A pall hangs over the entire film, building toward the culmination of the action that is shocking not only in its randomness, but in its volume. Miller has made a quiet, restrained film, one that demands the viewer to lean forward to appreciate, so when three loud gunshots ring out they shatter the quiet in a jarringly effective depiction of violence.
But for as effective as that scene is, the build-up is demands patience. The leads are uniformly great—particularly Carell who, as a repressed man used to getting what he wants and winning, whether it is a world championship title or play wrestling at a party, hands in a career re-defining performance—but the studied precision of the direction bogs down the pacing. If Miller edited the VERY long pauses in the conversations between Mark and John he could have trimmed half-an-hour from the running time. Some will find the start-and-stop delivery adds to the film’s surreal feel, other will simply find it tedious.
“Foxcatcher” is buoyed by interesting, unexpected performances and an unnerving tone but adds little to the examination of the complex issues that lie at the center of the story. Unchecked privilege and moral decadence are on display but the underlying pathology of the piece remains a mystery.