Expectations were running high at festival midpoint at Cannes for Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," which did not disappoint the international critics Monday morning, who gave the film a healthy round of applause. With "Capote" and "Moneyball" behind him, Cannes anointed the director with a first-time competition auteur slot. Sure enough, Jane Campion's jury gave him the Best Director prize for this intense murder drama financed by Annapurna.
Sony Pictures Classics gave Miller more time to tinker with his true story, pushing back its debut from AFI in November to spring in Cannes. Miller has delivered a chiseled portrait (at 132 minutes) of how two brother Olympic wrestlers (older coach Mark Ruffalo and competitor Channing Tatum) run afoul of their troubled wealthy patron, John E. Du Pont (Steve Carrell), ending in unexpected murder. The movie is at the same time intimate and distant, painstakingly exploring the nuances of these inarticulate characters and trying to approximate the reality of what happened to them.
"Within two minutes of seeing this story I knew I was going to make the film," Miller told Canal Plus. "I was drawn to it. I don't know why." He elaborated at the press conference, saying: "When I heard the story the details were so bizarre, about this patrician family and wrestling. It seemed so bizarre and absurdist yet it felt very familiar. Within the story there were themes that seemed larger than the story."
Both Carrell's Du Pont and Tatum's Mark Schulz are incommunicative and hold their emotions close--until they explode. Both Carrell, whose seething silence and dead eyes are chilling, and taciturn athlete Tatum reach for performances we have not seen them give before. Ruffalo is as good as ever as the older brother trying to save his beloved sibling from the confusing dysfunctional relationship he has developed with his wealthy mentor, who demands not only wrestling trophies but intimate physical contact, confusingly hard to parse in the context of wrestling bouts.
While the older Schultz has a wife (Sienna Miller) and family and has moved on to coaching post-Olympics, both his younger brother and Du Pont share stunted lives. Du Pont feels inadequate with his dominating equestrienne mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who withholds approval of his wrestling endeavors. He has never earned respect honestly his entire life; his mother paid for his one childhood friend, he tells Mark in a rare confession. For his part, Mark has lead a lonely and sports-centered life, leaning on his brother for emotional support. Inevitably, the two men both want to be his trusted coach.