There is the scene in the trailer for Bennet Miller’s unbearably tense olympic wrestling docu-drama where multi-millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) walks into the training room with his sponsored wrestlers training together, and in his right hand there is a gun. The shot doesn’t really call attention to it, it is just there in the frame waiting to be discovered by the audience. That is the filmmaker’s thesis right there in a single shot: unbearable dread that is just waiting to be found, feared and unleashed.
Foxcatcher is the latest from Bennet Miller a filmmaker who always manages to find unique subjects and characters to examine in his stories. From Truman Capote to Billy Beane, the distinct character studies that the director specializes in always manage to engage on several levels. As is the case with his latest olympic wrestling sports docu-drama chronicling the relationships between eccentric millionaire John Du Pont and brothers he sponsored for olympic competition Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo). Instead of a singular character study as with Miller’s previous efforts, here there are three personalities in a battle of wills, sometimes against and for one another, in some way shape and form.
Mark Shultz is a living the life of an ‘also-ran’, because despite medaling in the olympics he is known as Gold Medalist Dave Schultz’s younger Brother. He is just barely making a living while training for the next olympics in 1988 when a phone call from out-of-the-blue changes everything for him. Multi-millionaire heir John du Pont, of Du Pont Chemicals, wants to sponsor him for his own olympic team he is assembling at his facility the Foxcatcher Ranch. Mark first goes straight to his brother to ask if he wants in as well, but Dave is far more skeptical of the whole thing declining the offer only wanting to be around his immediate family for the time-being. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth Mark accepts immediately to train on du Pont’s sizable estate. From then on it is a battle both in the ring and outside it, as the relationship between du Pont and both Schultz’s oscillate frequently from respect to contempt in seemingly a blink of eye.
Mark is Tatum’s breakthrough performance as a serious actor with considerable skill. Schultz walks around like a fridge with legs, his box-like frame making him look like he labors with every step. He is seemingly only lives for one thing: wrestling. To be the best and to have the admiration of everyone, especially that of his talented brother. du Pont on the other hand is an enigma from the first time we are introduced to him. Carell brings to his character equal parts entitled buffoon and menace, switching from one to another in an instant. Though his manners and eccentricities are hilarious at times, it is apparent that this demeanor hides something else entirely brewing just beneath the surface.
While both of those distinct personalities are on one end of the competitive spectrum, Mark Ruffalo as the older Schultz acts as the balancing character to the whole affair. Dave is just an honest guy with normal concerns about his brother, the rest of his family, and his career. Having already had great success in his field, he just wants to settle down with his family and cheer on his brother when he can. Both brothers are stern competitors, but they respect each other to a fault. The two’s great onscreen chemistry helps to convey a powerful bond forged through years of sparing together and building their respective careers together. Thus, Dave comes into the fold remaining doubtful that the hapless du Pont can really serve to bring the best out of his brother and the other wrestlers the millionaire has bought off.
Going into his one without any knowledge about the actual story I found myself unbearable tense through the duration of just the idea that all this is building to nothing good. Indeed a distinct sense of dread spills out in every frame of Foxcatcher. Knowing that the equilibrium between the three characters is only satisfied as long as X keeps happening. Whether it is Mark winning in the ring, or Dave helping team Foxcatcher in the olympic trails or du Pont becoming a respected leader. It is a bubble that can only grow with increasing tension, until that is it bursts with horrific force.