Catching Early Oscar Gold

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

When a true-story sports drama gets made for the big screen, it’s usually punctuated by overdone inspirational journeys to be the best and come out on top in a David vs. Goliath showdown. Every now and then, there comes movies in the genre that forgo that cliched ambition and instead place more emphasis on unraveling the fascinatingly complex relationships between an athlete and those closest to them.

Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” is the newest film to take that approach, which bolsters both an extremely harrowing true story and grade-A performances that will be favorites among award voters.

In 1984, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is on the road to becoming one of the best wrestlers in the world after winning gold at the 1984 World Olympics. His successes however pale in comparison to those of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), of whom he has always lived in the shadow. A chance for change comes for Mark when multi-millionaire coach John du Pont (Steve Carell) offers to coach him to gold in the ‘88 Olympics in Seoul. Their relationship initially gains stride, but the arrival of Dave to provide assistant coaching at John’s training facility builds up to a series of unexpected circumstances.

Steve Carell easily ranks as one of the best comedic actors working today, but we sometimes forget his admirable aptness at playing more dramatic roles. While “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Way, Way Back,” are dramedies, both lent him the opportunity to play characters that had deeper cores in their personality besides having a dry sense of humor.

There’s nothing really humorous about John du Pont as a person, but Carell’s portrayal is still nothing short of magnificent. Sporting three hours of makeup including a prosthetic nose, Carell is almost completely unrecognizable in his physical appearance — if it weren’t for his voice, I would’ve never known it was him playing the role. His presence on screen initially feels subtle but his mostly deadpan tone conveys a profound uneasiness that develops throughout.

Equally towering in their performances are Tatum and Ruffalo as the Schultz brothers, both of whom display strong, low-key charisma with one another. Tatum perfectly captures the innocence-draining path Mark Schultz takes and has a scene in a hotel room that is without question the most powerful moment of his acting resume.

As Dave Schultz, Ruffalo is pleasantly endearing as the supportive brother whose main goal is to look out for the best in everyone he works with, most notably his little brother. Ruffalo’s easiness may feel disjointed with the otherwise ominous tone the film carries, but it surprisingly works on a stronger level than expected.

With previous experience in the biographical dramas “Capote” and “Moneyball,” Bennett Miller’s methodical directing style is sublimely matched for “Foxcatcher.” The cinematography is striking in complementing the uneasy tension of the du Pont-Schultz brothers relationship, and is utilized best in scenes where the characters are placed in settings that are claustrophobic in terms of space.

The one factor of this film that will divide people though is the pacing. The near two and a half hour runtime moves along at a glacial pace, which is also ironic concerning how cold the film is as a whole. That lengthiness pays off, however, in terms of how Miller tightens the tension between the characters, which grows more uneasy to the point that you’re on edge for the unexpected to happen at any moment.

As long as you can handle its slow pacing, “Foxcatcher” is an exceptionally acted biographical drama that will most certainly land a few Oscar nominations next year. Regardless of whatever opinion one will have on the film, it’s safe to say that you’ll never look at Michael Scott the same way ever again.


RECOMMENDED: The mesmerizing performances by Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum are too great to be ignored in this powerful sports drama.