Director Bennett Miller continues his streak of films based on a true story with Foxcatcher.
Based off the true story, Foxcatcher tells the tale of Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestlers Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and his younger brother Mark (Channing Tatum). One day, Mark is contacted by John du Pont (Steve Carrell) about training a group of wrestlers for the 1987 World Wrestling Championship and the 1988 Olympic Games. After living in the shadow of his older brother, Mark decides to take the opportunity in an attempt to separate himself from Dave.
Moving onto John's property and working under the name: Team Foxcatcher, Mark excels at training the wrestlers recruited and beginning to feel the confidence he lacked while training with Dave. John, as coach, begins to feel he is creating something special that can live up to his mother: Jean's, (Vanessa Redgrave) high, yet cold standards.
Having John and Mark on the same property, though, proves troublesome to each other as we see both characters and their insecurities arise. As John and Mark deal with their personal lives, the drive for winning at wrestling begins to suffer. John senses that Mark is not strong enough to handle what he wants and begins a pursuit to coax Dave onto his compound in an attempt to return the wrestling team to John's high standards.
Having seen Bennett Miller's past 2 films: Capote and Moneyball, this film follows in the same tradition I have regarding his past films. Performances are splendid, yet the films are somewhat hollow. This is not a knock on Foxcatcher or films prior, but Bennett Miller seems to really know how to get solid performances out of his actors, yet struggles to find a way to incorporate a solid story with the acting.
Speaking of the acting, the three leads are able to handily bolster the material. With Mark Schultz, Channing Tatum is tasked with anchoring the film as he is the primary focus for the first half of the story. I wasn't entirely sold on his performance as he mainly lacks any empathy and holds the audience at bay while projecting a tough exterior. The tough exterior, though, really doesn't come through as each character, and the audience, can easily see the cracks in Mark's foundation.
The roles that sell the film are Steve Carrell's performance as John and Mark Ruffalo as Dave. Steve Carrell becomes almost unrecognizable under his makeup while playing billionaire John du Pont. The way Carrell plays John, though, is with sadness and empathy. John is not a bad man, thought treated as one by his mother. The script provides no favors as we are only able to scratch John's surface. Thankfully, Carrell steps up to elevate the material. You may not be able to sympathize with John, but you can certainly understand why he is the way he is.
Mark Ruffalo is the true standout of the film as the Mark's older and caring brother, Dave. Even though the role is not showy, Ruffalo is able to project a warmth over the character and never loses focus on what matters most to him: family. Even when Mark and Dave begin to fall out, Dave still has Mark's best interests at hand and is skeptical that John has Mark's best interests at hand also. In true form, Mark Ruffalo can take even the simplest material and make wonders of it.
With three solid performances, Foxcatcher is a few steps above Moneyball and Capote. Now if Bennett Miller were able to find a script to go along with the performances he gets out of each film, he could be a continuous threat come awards season.