***1/2 out of ****
When comedians transition into dramatic acting, the results can wildly vary. At its very worst, the actors try too hard, giving off of a vibe of “LOVE ME!!!!!” desperation. And it seems like a trap ready to spring on Steve Carell in the new film Foxcatcher. He’s playing a real-life character (the disturbed billionaire John DuPont) under heavy makeup. It’s a boom-or-bust performance.
But happily, Carell (working with director Bennett Miller from a script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman) sidesteps all the potential pitfalls in Foxcatcher. There are no “Oscar clip” moments for Carell, which is something that applies to the rest of the film, too. The tragic events that climax the film are foreshadowed, but it’s all portrayed subtly, and in a minor key that proves to be very effective.
The film opens with Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) toiling under the shadow of his more accomplished brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Dave’s loving and considerate of his brother, but that seems to make Mark even more frustrated. Carell’s DuPont invites Mark to his estate and asks him to train there (while offering a generous salary to do nothing but train). The two men have a connection. Carell feels overshadowed by his family name and his domineering mother, much as Tatum feels ignored in favor of his brother.
Things initially go well, but cracks in Carell’s persona emerge that identify him as something more sinister than just a wealthy eccentric with a wrestling hobby. But his disturbing behavior is ignored by most of those around him because he’s generous with his money. One of the film’s themes is how too much money poisons everyone around it. Carell’s character grew up isolated and spoiled because of his family’s fortune. Tatum (and eventually, Ruffalo) have misgivings about Carell, but they put them aside because the money’s seemingly too good to pass up.
Bennett Miller also directed 2011’s Moneyball and 2005’s Capote. He doesn’t work often, but his past three films prove that whatever his next project is, it’s one to be excited about.