Review: 'Foxcatcher'

For about a minute and a half it's impossible to take Steve Carell's enormous prosthetic schnozz in “Foxcatcher” seriously. But the spirit of Peter Sellers smiles over him and, in time, the associations we have of “Anchorman” and “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” blend in with the rest of the disquieting weirdness. “Foxcatcher” is his “Being There,” a weirdly half-comic, half-tragic role, which is especially creepy coming from someone who normally broadcasts big laughs. While it's difficult to get inside his head, and the character surely is delusional, he's not the wide-eyed neophyte. That's Channing Tatum, an emotionally crippled hunk of concrete – an Olympic medalist that Carell tries to mold into his own personal trophy.

Strangely, and tragically, “Foxcatcher” is based on a true story. Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a winner living like a loser. He trains at an ugly gym, eats 88 cent noodles for dinner and spends his free time poking at a handheld video game that was already lame back in the '80s when this picture is set. His older brother Dave (Mark Rufallo) is also a gold medalist, but somehow seems to have his life far more in order. He's got a family, a home and business deals. Swooping in like an angel comes Carell's John DuPont, and if that last name sounds familiar, yes, he is from that DuPont family. He summons Mark to his home, called Foxcatcher, and the helicopter trip is as ominous as the one in “Jurassic Park.” In short order old money and modern times collide, and it's brother Dave who gets caught in the crossfire.

If you can't handle awkward social situations – like when you kinda have to be nice to a guy and let him hang out with you and laugh at his jokes even though he's embarrassing you in front of your friends – stay they hell away from this movie. It's one scene like that after another as DuPont's circle of servants and sycophants muster all their strength to avoid letting him know what a dingus he is.

Strength, of course, is what this movie is all about. The DuPonts – America's Richest Family, we're reminded – made their fortune from weapons and ammunition. Carell's John, forever in the shadow of his disapproving mother, has no wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or any seeming prurient interests. He does, however, have a gymnasium full of grappling Greco-Roman wrestlers whom he supplies with luxurious housing and state-of-the-art facilities. In exchange, he demands that they admire him. But he's not a complete dope. If you don't kiss the ring unprompted, that's enough to shatter his ego. As such, an elaborate series of moves must be played out to keep up appearances.

Tatum's Mark Schultz isn't exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer, and at first he's easily wowed by DuPont's power and influence, but in time he recognizes that his brother Dave was right to resist. By the midpoint of the film, however, DuPont makes Dave an offer he can't refuse, and soon the whole family is at Foxcatcher training for the '88 Olympic Games.

For a movie about muscles and masculinity, there's the same catty head games as any thread on “Days Of Our Lives.” This is in no way a knock against the film, as director Bennett Miller's reserved style lets the inherent drama rise to a classicist level befitting the portraits that hang in Foxcatcher's salons. Watching this movie is something of a passive affair. There aren't any puzzles to “figure out,” but bearing witness to the twisted psychology as it builds to its dark conclusion is nothing short of fascinating. Forgive me for being coarse about a real life event, but “Foxcatcher” is an undeniably juicy yarn.

At heart, of course, is the sexually transmitted disease of inherited privilege. How can a man who is handed everything for doing nothing know what to do with it? Peter Medak's 1972 classic “The Ruling Class” was the shock-and-awe version tearing down family dynasties. Miller's version is fundamentally more American, with muscle-bound athletes, hard work and supposed self-reliance. While Carell's odd duck and Tatum's sad Hulk will get the most attention, it's Ruffalo as the humane family man that's the glue to the whole picture. He's just about the nicest guy we've seen in a film in a long time, a man ready to swallow his pride for his family's security and take lumps when his brother is hot under the collar. It's a perfect role for him at this point in his career.

“Foxcatcher” debuted at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, but it isn't going anywhere anytime soon. I'd be stunned if it didn't get an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. (Assuming there are nine slots again this year.) Super mainstream audiences hoping for a sports picture (or, heaven help us, a typical Steve Carell comedy) are going to be extremely disappointed. But as a version of “The Master” with two servants, this a thought-provoking and solid piece of work.

SCORE: 8.8/10