Mark Schultz is a monosyllabic loner, interested only in wrestling. Tatum sticks out his jaw in neanderthal fashion and mumbles his way through a speech for a bunch of elementary school kids, talking about patriotism. It’s when the school secretary makes out the cheque that we realise Dave should have been giving the speech. In contrast to Mark’s lumbering hulk, Dave is small, affable and completely at ease with himself and with others. As they train together it is clear that the older sibling’s job is that of father, trainer and anger manager. Their lives are inextricably linked whilst being poles apart.
Alone in his dingy flat, Mark receives a mystery phone call from someone on behalf of John Du Pont inviting him to Pennsylvania. With the world championships looming and the Seoul Olympics three years away, Du Pont (Steve Carrell) offers Mark an incredible opportunity to train and live on his estate. Mark snaps up the offer, but Dave declines. This is where the sinister Du Pont sees his chance to mould and corrupt his dim and naive protege. Much has been written about whether Carrell could escape his comedy persona, but he completely embodies Du Pont. With his prosthetic nose, tiny teeth and grey skin, he looks as if he has been poisoned by the chemicals that made his family’s fortune. This tiny friendless man lives in thrall to his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), and is a repressed homosexual whose interest in wrestling is the physical contact he enjoys with the participants.
Foxcatcher shows us the corruptive and devastating power of money. When Mark states that his brother can’t be bought, we watch Du Pont digesting this information. Not long after, Dave and family are ensconced on the estate, but throughout his time with Du Pont, Dave never sells himself and he is the one character for whom the allure of money holds no power. And Ruffalo is the knockout star of this film, pitching the perfect tone and conveying so much just by flickering his eyes or shifting his body. He and Tatum have created an onscreen fraternal bond that is totally convincing.
Many aspects combine to make this a great film: the three leads’ performances; the design, as Du Pont’s home gradually empties of his mother’s equestrianism trophies and fills with eagles and arms; the sounds – of grunting wrestlers, birds and helicopters – and the silences. E. Max Frye’s screenplay takes us on the Schultz brothers’ journey and leads us to the terrible denouement in this subtle and horrifying parable of what money can and can’t buy.