It's probably for the best if you don't remember anything about the 1996 incident involving an Olympic wrestling champion and paranoid-schizophrenic millionaire John du Pont. But even if you know the outcome, the Foxcatcher is still a terrific new biographical drama. It arrives in theaters areawide on Friday.
At the film's start, we see just how difficult things have become for Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic wrestling champion who's barely getting by and has to scrounge for low-paying speaking engagements just to make ends meet. His life is much more of a grind than that of his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic wrestling champion. Much more down-to-earth and affable than his brother, Dave has a good coaching gig and is able to support his family. Mark is introverted and unmarried. He lives on ramen noodles.
So when du Pont (Steve Carell) reaches out to Mark and flies him to his Foxcatcher Farms compound/estate in rural Pennsylvania, offering to provide financial support and training as Mark preps for the next Olympics, the wrestler doesn't hesitate to take advantage even though his brother advises him against it. Things get weird pretty quickly as John asks Mark to call him "Eagle" and starts pontificating about the disappearance of traditional American values. He also warns Mark against ever talking to his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), a champion equestrian and breeder, who still keeps horses on the estate.
Eventually, Dave moves his family to the estate so he can organize and train a wrestling team. Dave quickly clashes with du Pont, especially when he notices that his brother isn't in the best physical or mental shape. It's a matter of time before something bad goes down and the film's climax is a real shock.
Director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) deserves credit for getting such great performances from the cast. Wearing a prosthetic nose, Carell is barely recognizable as du Pont and he brings an intensity to the character that's unlike any other role he's played. Ruffalo has mastered a wrestler's gait and is equally solid, as is Tatum. The movie's ultimately a downer, but it's so well-crafted and well-acted, it's still one of the year's best flicks.