John du Pont (played here by a ghostly Steve Carrell) spent $600,000 of his $200 million fortune to build a wrestling gym at Foxcatcher, his family estate and the name of director Bennett Miller's stone-faced jock drama. He was a lousy wrestler himself: over 50, scrawny, and with a permanent wedgie. What he was really trying to buy was respect from his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), from the Olympic committee, and from his locker room of grapplers who dutifully agreed to call him coach in exchange for great facilities and free room and board.
Everyone has a price. Which makes Foxcatcher
a natural follow-up to Miller's Moneyball
, another sports film about dollars, cents, and cynicism. The cheapest is Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a 1984 gold medalist who, thanks to Olympic eligibility rules, is so broke he's gotta train for 1988 Seoul on a diet of dry ramen. Carrell is unrecognizable as the lonely tyrant. Meanwhile, Mark looks like a brute, but turns out to be as fragile as a little boy. Sometimes Tatum punches his own head as if Mark was trying to turn on his brain.
Miller has mashed the timeline and rejiggered events so much that the film is several strides away from the truth, which would be more pardonable if he'd done it to shape a theme. The pieces of something important are here — there's ego and greed and desperation, the essential ingredients of the American tragedy -- but none of it fits together. Instead, Foxcatcher
is merely a very, very good character study with acting so fine that it's frustrating it's not in the service of a real, emotional wallop.