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Bennett Miller‘s first two feature films, Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011), were both nominated for the best picture Oscar. His third, Foxcatcher, has already garnered him the best director prize at May’s Cannes Film Festival. But if Foxcatcher is to follow in the footsteps of Miller’s earlier films, it will have to resonate stateside, too, which is why so much attention was paid to its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival on Saturday morning.
The 134-minute film unspooled before a packed Palm Theatre — the same venue that the world premiere of Capote opened nine years ago — and, upon its conclusion, was met with a very strong ovation. Viewers seemed particularly impressed by the strong performances of the three men at the center of the film — Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo — two of whom (Tatum and Carell) have never been accorded roles of this nature or been as good as they are in this film (Ruffalo is almost always great), and all three of whom received major applause (Carell’s being the loudest).
The slow-burning drama, which will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on Nov. 14, right in the thick of the Oscar season, is set in the late 1980s and is based on the true story of a pair of brothers who won gold medals for wrestling in the 1984 Olympics (Ruffalo and Tatum), the younger and more vulnerable of whom (Tatum) was later taken under the wing of one of the richest — and weirdest — men in America, John du Pont (Carell).
My sense is that it will be on the bubble for a best picture nom (like Prisoners, which played and was similarly received at Telluride last year, it may be a bit too dark for some in the Academy), but that its actors, script (co-written by Dan Futterman, who also penned Capote, and E. Max Frye) and director will probably stand a better shot. Ruffalo will be vying for a spot in the supporting actor race (in which he should also be considered for Begin Again), but Tatum and Carell are apparently both going to be pushed as leads, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out.
All three men do physically grueling and psychologically complex work. Tatum and Ruffalo spent months training and learning how to perform choreographed wrestling at a high level. (One of the greatest scenes that you’ll ever see is the first time that their characters step onto a wrestling mat to silently warm up together. Another is when Tatum melts down and destroys a hotel room.) Tatum adjusts his jaw and Ruffalo becomes pigeon-toed in order to look more like the real people they are playing. Carell, meanwhile, is virtually unrecognizable beneath a ton of makeup and prosthetics that enable him to play a much older man.
My sense is that men will respond to Foxcatcher a bit more than women, just as women will respond to Wild, another film here at the fest, a bit more than men. But both are ultimately stories about the love that family members tend to share for one another and the things that can come between them — and both offer terrific vehicles for first-rate actors, some of whom show us things in these roles that we never previously knew they had in them.
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