‘Foxcatcher’ makes creepy a sport

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Foxcatcher (2014)

Directed by Bennett Miller

7/10  R

I don’t use the word “unforgettable” very often, especially not with movies I didn’t particularly enjoy, but director Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” still has me thinking. It might have been slow, but I was absolutely captivated the entire time. Like any good thriller, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Every moment was just building up to the climax.

“Foxcatcher” tells the fascinating true story of wealthy bachelor John du Pont (Golden Globe nominee Steve Carrell), who took it upon himself to sponsor and train the 1988 USA Olympic wrestling team, and took a particular liking to foxcatcher_04wrestling star and ’84 Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). When du Pont brings in Schultz’s brother Dave (Golden Globe nominee Mark Ruffalo) to help coach, the strange relationship between du Pont and his wrestlers is exposed.

The dark, twisted plot doesn’t lend itself to synopsis. “Foxcatcher” relies on an atmosphere of uncomfortable silence and creepy, slow-burning suspense to push the story forward. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or be thoroughly weirded-out by some of the scenes. Is there anything funny about the situation? As an audience, you’re never 100% sure what’s happening in “Foxcatcher.” Even after researching the facts of the story, so many questions are left unanswered. Coming away from the theater, I hated that. But also, I’m not sure it wasn’t the film’s best feature. Something about its ambiguity led “Foxcatcher” to be an absolutely riveting sports epic.

None of this could have been achieved had the three main roles not been filled with such casting genius as they were. Steve Carrell undergoes a transformation, both physically and professionally, to turn into the beak-nosed, slow-talking heir to the du Pont family fortune. Can somebody say “Carrell-aissance”? I’ve always been in the camp of 4_thumbpeople who see wrestling as weird and grabby. Others see it as a primal way to release aggression. John du Pont seemed to see wrestling as a mix of the two. Did he use his Foxcatcher wrestling facility as a place to play out his own homoerotic fantasies? I don’t know. “Foxcatcher” never really says. But in the way that Carrell acts, you think it’s a possibility. du Pont’s intentions are always up for interpretation. The high quality of Carrell’s performance, however, is not. Of the three, Mark Ruffalo looks the most like his character’s real-life counterpart. He gives the performance of his career. But Channing Tatum hasn’t received the same award attention as the others. He deserves it. Maybe Tatum was typecast as the dumb jock, but nobody could have played it like he did. He breathes through his mouth, changes up his posture and walk, and altogether turns into an Olympic wrestler. He nails it.

“Foxcatcher” combines the sports focus of director Miller’s “Moneyball” with the sick drama of his only other feature, “Capote.” What he creates is something I probably won’t see again anytime soon, but something I won’t soon forget either. It’ll stick with you.

“Foxcatcher” is in theaters.

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