I don’t think anybody in their right minds would have suspected that Steve Carell— someone who is generally know for charming and comedic roles—could completely destroy his typecast persona with a force so tremendous that he is left beyond recognition. Nonetheless Carell delivers a performance that even most dramatic actors cannot muster.
Foxcatcher, directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball,) follows the intersecting lives of two Olympic wrestlers and an eccentric and bizarre millionaire who wants nothing more than to train a wrestling team to compete and win in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. In what is a primarily performance driven film, we are also propelled forward by the ever-lingering notion that nothing good can possibly come out of having three utterly obsessed and perfectionist characters crossing paths in their attempts to attain gold. The intense psychological moments regarding the characters all have an underlying feeling of a slow-burn thriller in which the bomb can explode at any possible moment resulting in tragic consequences.
Mark Shultz, played by Channing Tatum, has lived in the shadow of his brother, David, (Mark Ruffalo) for far too long. They are both gold-winners who are striving to have another go at the Olympics. Mark is propositioned to come to an estate in Pennsylvania to meet John du Pont, played absolutely brilliantly by Carell, to start and train a team to take to the Olympics. From the very start, du Pont is creepy and strange. He is unapologetically patriotic, believing that most of the nation has lost its pride, and he wants to bring it back. His mother who occasionally roams the estate has never been impressed by her sons actions, so we add another layer to his desires to be successful. Du Pont and Mark need each other because they both need the same thing: recognition. Of course things are never quite as easy as they seem and soon we begin to realize that the initially welcoming and generous du Pont will stop at nothing to get what he wants. The film has so many layers of motivation and desires, and it is fantastically written so as to allow the audience to take out of it what they want and to interpret in their own ways.
Carell thrusts himself into his character so fully that we can only wonder why we never suspected he had it in him. He is not at all his usual character, and that is a very good thing. He is manipulative, delusional, and at times purely strange. Adding to that is a fantastic makeup job that leaves Carell visually unrecognizable with a hideously-long nose and age-enhancing make up. We never know quite how he is going to act; his unpredictability grows as the film reaches its horrifyingly-shocking climax and we do not if or when he is going to snap. Carell manically drags the audience along with little moments of insanity that only promise something far worse than we actually expect. He is very deservedly getting recognition for his performance, and one can only hope he attempts to do more films like these because he really outdoes anything he has ever done before with this role.
Channing Tatum also succeeds in shedding his non-serious skin in a truly devastating and brutal performance of someone who has lived their life in someone else’s shadow and needs to break free. His desperateness for this is what drives him so easily into the arms of du Pont. The amount of stress and anger he is exposed to nearly breaks him. His desire to win is nothing short of heartbreaking because of the extreme behaviors he does in order to do so. Every loss makes it that much worse for him and his relationship with du Pont who’s already unpredictable behavior makes us fear for anything but a win. Ruffalo also maintains his consistently good acting as the brother who gets brought in despite having all he really needs. He has a family, a good job, and he is happy with just training his brother. Once he gets thrown into the mix, the dynamics between him and du Pont start to create a whole new vibe for the film—one that adds to the already anxious tone.
In the end, Foxcatcher boasts some of the best and game-changing performances of the year. From Steve Carell’s departure from his most well-known roles—and genres for that matter—to Channing Tatum’s stellar performance in one of his very few dramatic roles, and to Mark Ruffalo who is fantastic as always, the film is nothing short of an acting frenzy where nobody tries to steal the spotlight and everybody goes all-out in crafting some of the most vivid, terrifying, and real characters of the year. Add to that the psychologically enthralling story with the feeling of imminent tragedy and the result is a brilliant character study in which Bennett Miller pulls out the best performances out of actors playing characters at their worst. Foxcatcher will leave you stunned and amazed. Go check it out if you can.