“Foxcatcher” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Biopics continue their dominance this award season as four out of the five Golden Globe nominees for best drama movie are biographical in nature (the only non-biopic feature being Boyhood). This phenomenon shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, since movies based off of the real-life events and stories of people tend to be natural draws for the masses, especially when the biographical people in question have amazingly dramatic stories to tell (which they always do). Enter Foxcatcher.

I’ll readily admit that out of the four biopic Golden Globe nominees, I knew the least about Foxcatcher. Heck, I didn’t even know the film was based off a true story until I started watching it (seeing the movie trailer for this doesn’t help prepare you at all). Thankfully, I rather appreciated being able to go into this movie knowing next to nothing about it, and it made the whole outing more of an experience for me. In a nutshell, Foxcatcher tells the story of two Olympic wrestling champion brothers who join Team Foxcatcher to train for the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul. Foxcatcher is lead and funded by eccentric multimillionaire John du Pont, whose relationship with the brothers will forever change their lives. The film is lead by critically-acclaimed director Bennett Miller, who seems to have knack for biographical stories–his previous two biopics being 2011’s Moneyball with Brad Pitt, and 2005’s Capote with the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Needless to say, Miller is great at bringing out the tension and real-life drama from these stories, and it shows in his work–the fact that Foxcatcher is nominated for a Golden Globe is testament to this.

Great directors are not only able to attract top-tier talent to their projects, but they are also able to draw outstanding performances from them, as well. This can be seen through the film’s three leads–Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carell, who play the Schultz brothers and John du Pont, respectively. All three leading men put in great performances with extra bonus points going to trio for showing sides of them most probably haven’t seen before. Interestingly, the film also takes a somewhat different approach to its storytelling–rather than focus on just one character (common for most biopics), the narrative jumps between the three leads putting the emphasis on their relationships with each other, rather than a specific individual.

The film opens on “Mark”, the younger Schultz brother, played by Tatum, giving a motivational speech to an auditorium of school children. As we watch Mark go through his every day routine we start to get a sense of him as a person. He’s a quiet, introverted man whose passion and main focus in life is his wrestling. He seems slightly off and maybe even standoffish, but is actually a gentle soul at heart. This is especially seen when he interacts with his older brother “David”, played by Ruffalo. Although Mark and David are both Olympic champions, when you see the two work with each other, you can tell that David is more of the brains in the operation, with Mark being more of the brawn. David also happens to be the more outgoing and extroverted of the brothers, adding a necessary sense of balance between them. Naturally, these ying-yang qualities make for an extremely effective pairing, and you can see why the Schultz brothers are a force to be reckoned with on the mat.

Getting back to Mark–although he clearly loves and cares for his older brother, you get a sense that he yearns for something more and is living in the shadow of David. His secret wishes are answered when he gets a call from John du Pont (played by Carell), who makes Mark an offer he can’t refuse. John, an eccentric millionaire and heir to the du Pont family (a longstanding noble American family steeped in “old money”), also happens to be an avid patriot and wrestling fan, and offers to pay Mark (lucratively) to start his own wrestling training team–to be later officially dubbed “Team Foxcatcher”. Eager to make a name for himself as an individual, Mark accepts the offer and relocates to the du Pont family estate, where he begins building a wrestling a program to start training for professional competitions with an eye toward the next Olympic games. At first, everything is a dream come true for Mark, and he readily builds a close personal relationship with John, whom he looks up to as a pseudo father figure. Unfortunately, things turn sour between the two, which propels the story down a darker path.

Tatum has had a great year in film, with nearly every movie he’s starred in being hit–whether critically or in the box office. His turn in Foxcatcher is a very wise move on his part, because it helps to show that not only is he a good dramatic actor, but he also has the chops and gravitas to work in more indie/award season type projects. This type of transition is akin to his Jump Street co-star Jonah Hill who got his start playing funny character-y roles in comedies like Superbad and Get Him to the Greek, before garnering critical attention with stellar performances in films like Moneyball and most recently The Wolf of Wall Street. It’s just a matter of time before Tatum starts getting his share of critical attention, so keep on the look out for him in 2015!

Although Tatum’s Mark seems to be the film’s initial focus, the story eventually shifts more toward John. Even when John was first introduced, he came off as a bit of an odd duck, and only as the film unfolds do we truly get a glimpse at his psychosis. At first, he comes off as relatively harmless in his intentions to build a wrestling program with Mark, and seems to truly care for the young wrestler. However, as wrestling competitions begin looming over the horizon, John transforms into a different kind of person–a cold and calculating businessman who only cares about being the best. When things go awry, he lashes out at Mark, and eventually decides to hire David to essentially take over the program that Mark began. Not surprisingly, this action impacts Mark heavily, and even though he comes to love having David by his side again, his relationship with John is forever tainted. Carell has been getting lots of buzz for his portrayal of the wealthy scion, first and foremost for the fact that the Office actor looks almost unrecognizable here. In fact, if you didn’t know Carell was in this movie prior to seeing it, you’d probably be hard pressed to identity him. Looks aside, the role is also quite an about-face for the actor–typically known for his lighthearted comedic roles a la the Anchorman and Despicable Me franchises. Carell’s John is a complex box of crazy–he’s soft-spoken, commanding, mean, and subtly sociopathic. As his involvement with Team Foxcatcher expands, so does the extant of his madness, which ultimately ends in him cruelly taking the life of Ruffalo’s David.

Speaking of David–once again, Ruffalo gives us a stellar acting performance and nuanced character as Mark’s older brother. I was honestly a bit skeptical at the thought of Ruffalo playing an Olympic wrestler, given that most of his previous work has been playing more quirky, offbeat characters rather than playing a jock-ish athlete. Obviously I was wrong to ever doubt Ruffalo, and he easily convinced me that he was a seasoned wrestler and devout family man–the fact that Ruffalo bulked up considerably also helped. David’s relationship with Mark is a heavy emphasis in the film, and Ruffalo and Tatum’s characters share many sweet brotherly moments with each other. As previously mentioned, Mark is a bit introverted, and David was one of the few people that readily understood him and spoke his “language”. Their relationship as brothers then only makes David’s untimely death all the more tragic and confusing.

Although the relationships between Mark, David, and John are the focus of the narrative, there are two actresses worth noting here. British actress Sienna Miller plays David’s wife “Nancy Schultz”. Miller has seen a considerable rise in her profile as of late, no doubt due to solid performances in critically acclaimed films like Foxcatcher. Her other recent film is Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which, humorously, is also a biopic where Miller finds herself playing the wife to the film’s subject. Finally, veteran Academy Award-winning actress Vanessa Redgrave plays a minor role as John’s mother, “Jean du Pont”. Although her role isn’t too prominent within the film, whenever she is on screen she captures your attention and has a commanding icy presence as the noble matriarch. Her relationship (or lack thereof) with her son John also helps to explain why John is so messed up. Mommy issues will get you every time.

Rather than focus on one primary character and telling the story through his or her eyes, Foxcatcher jumps between the three male leads, and focuses more on their interactions and relationships with one another, and how it shaped their lives. This, combined with the fact that most people probably won’t know too much about the real life stories of the Schultz brothers and the du Pont family, means that the film’s story will keep you guessing until the end, and make you seriously ponder the reasons why sharing this story is important.

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Kyle