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Foxcatcher ***1/2

Is it worth $10? Yes

Sometimes having it all leaves you with nothing. In “Foxcatcher,” a superb and sordid tale of great wealth and unfulfilled desires, John DuPont (a fantastic Steve Carell) has millions in the bank and nothing to show for it. He inherited the family fortune but has done nothing of substance himself. So he goes where all millionaire philanthropists go to make their mark: the world of amateur wrestling.

Okay, maybe not. But John’s ability to lure 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to his Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania to train is a real coup for DuPont, who fancies himself a wrestling coach and believes providing the training facilities for future Olympic champions makes him both a great leader and a great American. John even invites Mark’s more celebrated brother, fellow Olympic champion Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), to train at Foxcatcher, but Dave declines. Things are great at first as they train for the ’87 world championships and ’88 Seoul Olympics, but jealousy, possessiveness and lack of gratitude soon rear their ugly heads.

The story takes place over roughly 18 months, so it stands to reason the gradual disintegration of John and Mark’s relationship will take time. The problem is it takes too much time, to the point that the 134 minute running time feels exhaustive, and for no good reason. We don’t need five different shots of Mark driving to Foxcatcher Farms, conversations that regularly feature pregnant pauses, or countless scenes that hold a second or two too long. With a story about a regressing relationship such as this, too much patience is a flaw because the suspense needs to build to an exciting climax. As is the action doesn’t “rise” so much as it trots along until a big “boom” in the final moments. Roughly 15 minutes shorter and this is a legitimately great movie.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in Foxcatcher
Thankfully, director Bennett Miller’s (“Capote”) film is also one of those times in which there’s a perfect marriage of actors and story. Tatum and Ruffalo trained six months for the wrestling scenes, and their efforts show. Not only does each have the burly build and slouch of a wrestler, each also walks on their toes, seemingly prancing as they move along, the inevitable result of countless hours of training to “stay low” for better leverage. And if ever you doubted before, let there be no doubt now that Tatum has legitimate acting chops and can hold his own with the best of them. Granted he plays a naïve meathead, but this is a layered, tortured meathead who doesn’t know how to handle the passive aggressive complexity of John’s personality.

Speaking of whom, Carell’s performance is special. “Foxcatcher” is not the first time a comedian has taken his talents into drama (Robin Williams, Jim Carrey), but it’s nonetheless a thrill to see Carell display such potent dramatic range. The transformation of a prosthetic nose, short gray hair and a staccato walk render him nearly unrecognizable, and when coupled with seething inner bitterness we get a character who is almost unforgettable. This is the most impressive performance of Carell’s career, and with any luck it will open him up to more dramas in the future.

Performances aside, “Foxcatcher” is ultimately a sad story about sad people. It’s a credit to Carell and Tatum that John and Mark come across as sympathetic as they do; with a lesser actor these characters would be pathetic and one-dimensional, and we wouldn’t care what becomes of them. But Miller gets us so enveloped in this odd story that we can’t wait to see how it transpires, even if it’s taking a while to get there.

Did you know?
While shooting a wrestling scene Ruffalo smacked Tatum so hard it popped Tatum’s eardrum.

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