If Mr. Burns were real, he’d be a lot sadder. That’s the main takeaway here, in Bennet Miller’s impressive new three-hander,Foxcatcher. I kid, of course. That’s not really the takeaway. But after an hour or so of watching Steve Carrell disappear into the role of John du Pont, the lonely and paranoid multi-millionaire, it struck me how positivelyBurnsian he was. And it was just so, so sad. The movie is a somber affair, full of very long drawn out scenes with minimal dialogue. Channing Tatum, in the best acting of his career so far, plays amateur wrestler Mark Schultz, who despite being an Olympic gold winner is nonetheless is extremely awkward socially and seems to only have one friend in the world, his brother Dave. He lives a quiet, lonely life until one day an uber-rich benefactor summons him to his estate and tells him that he has big plans for him. Big, Olympic-sized plans. Du Pont is that benefactor, of course. And Carrell, also in the best acting of his career, completely nails the role. Rounding out the cast is Mark Ruffalo as brother Dave. This isn’t the best acting of his career, but that’s only because he’s great in everything. They’re basically the only roles of note in the movie, though Vanessa Redgrave is stellar in one brief scene as du Pont’s mother.
This is a very deliberately paced movie. It’s practically lethargic in its approach to storytelling, seeming to desire nothing more than to show us the relationship between Mark and du Pont, two very lonely souls who manage to find one another despite their radically different upbringings. Du Pont ostensibly hires Mark to be his assistant coach for a new wrestling team aimed at winning Olympic gold, but very quickly Mark falls in love with the decadence of du Pont’s wealthy lifestyle, lets his hair grow out and frosts it blonde, and then starts to drink and do drugs at du Pont’s urging. In many respects, their relationship resembles a dirty old man and a kept boy, but there’s no suggestion of any sexual energy between them. They are simply very lonely. Finally, in the third act, a plot starts to develop. Good thing, too, as the opening title cards informed us that this was a true story and at that point nothing of note had happened that would make this a story that anyone would be telling.
But the plot that develops in the third act is still mostly just an excuse to let us spend more time with these characters. If Carrell, Tatum, and Ruffalo weren’t so excellent in the roles, this would be a problem, but they are all utterly captivating. Miller’s real gift here is his ability to tell a true-crime story as if it were a Walt Whitman poem. Far more melancholic than thrilling.