Bennett Miller (Capote) achieves a rather dubious distinction with Foxcatcher, the strangely tragic story of John E. du Pont’s efforts to sponsor an Olympic wrestling team, featuring gold medal brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and David (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz. The reclusive multimillionaire (remarkably channeled by Steve Carell hiding behind a prosthetic nose and an impervious cloak of madness) woos Mark, the more susceptible of the two, with a Faustian offer that turns out to be even more of a bait and switch than it might have seemed at first glance.
This carefully constructed headline news clip has a claustrophobically insulated vibe that threatens to drain the very life out of its three intriguing performances. Carell and Tatum form a tag team, creating such soulless figures grasping at one another, like two flailing wrestlers on the mat, that in some ways doom the film because these men and the film as a whole work hard to repel rather than entice viewers. In the end, it is Ruffalo, little seen until the final act, who reaches out to us with a firm sense of humanity and a hopefulness that strains mightily to escape the inevitable trap that is Team Foxcatcher. I walked away from the Toronto International Film Festival press screening of Foxcatcher willing to acknowledge that it was a supremely mannered and studied piece of work that captures a full-on display of the utter banality of evil, and that one encounter with it would be more than enough. (R) Grade: B