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Article by Teddy Durgin

Definitely catch 'Foxcatcher' this weekend

I have to confess - going into "Foxcatcher" (opening at the Charles and in Maryland this Friday), I really didn't know much about the whole sad saga of the mentally ill millionaire John du Pont and the Schultz brothers wrestling dynasty. It was one of those tabloid stories that didn't make it into my pop culture subconscious. I guess when it all played out from the late 1980s through the '90s, I could only handle so much O.J., Jon Benet, Monica Lewinsky, Whitewater, Menendez brothers ridiculousness. So, I may be the perfect audience for Bennett Miller's splendid retelling of the events. Some of you have never heard of "the events" either? Well, I won't give too much away then. Basically, "Foxcatcher" tells the story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who becomes friendly with du Pont and moves onto his estate to train for the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. At the time, John du Pont (a truly mesmerizing Steve Carrell) is presented as being obsessed with gaining the love and respect of his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave). So, he starts "coaching" what he sees as a world-class team of athletes. He pushes Mark beyond his limits. Caught in the eventual emotional and literal crossfire is Mark's brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also a champion Olympic wrestler. The film is a study in madness, vanity, ego and control. It is an extremely precise piece of filmmaking that finds director Miller, of "Moneyball," using the structure of a sports movie to tell a story about people and personalities. The pressure to succeed - to prove one's self - fuels the narrative here, and you can feel the move hurdling to tragedy even if you don't exactly know what happened in real life. And if you do, there is still such a dire feeling that something really bad is going to eventually happen, that you root, despite yourself, that the fates will take a different turn. I love flicks in which the lead actor or actress physically transforms himself to become a character. Sure, nine times out of 10 (probably more), it's a shameless grab for Oscar gold. But give me a Robert DeNiro packing on the pounds for "Raging Bull" or Christian Bale starving himself to the point of legitimate medical concern for "The Fighter" or Charlize Theron beating herself with the ugly stick for "Monster," and I am SO there! Carrell sheds all physical hints of the amiable goof of the "Anchorman" or "Evan Almighty" flicks to cut a rather frightening figure as John du Pont. The look that he goes for here is so great, so purposefully showy, that it works in grabbing your attention and pulling you into this warped, funhouse mirror reality. Tatum and Ruffalo, meanwhile, hit the gym and the movie makeup chair to a lesser extent, but are made completely believable as Olympic-caliber wrestlers. Tatum, in particular, has come a long, LONG way from his stiff, early work on screen. I'm going to give him a compliment I rarely give anymore - I really can't imagine anyone else in this role. "Foxcatcher" is not one of those uplifting Oscar bait movies where the music eventually swells, a great victory is achieved and life lessons are learned. It's more of a dark, cautionary tale cataloging more than a few of the pitfalls of the American dream. It's an actor's showcase, to be sure. But what a collection of actors, and what a showcase!

"Foxcatcher" is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.


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