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Cannes Day 6: ‘Foxcatcher’

Staff Writer
Austin 360

All of Cannes is buzzing about the Monday screening of Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” Variety is saying that Steve Carell is a lock for an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the repressed, creepy billionaire murderer John du Pont. And some hailed it as the movie of the festival.

But others, including me, are resisting such pronouncements. “Foxcatcher” is good, but the subject matter is so bizarre that it’s not at all clear that the movie will find an audience in the United States. It’s artfully done. No doubt about it. And as an arthouse movie, it’s undoubtedly worthy. But….

“Foxcatcher” deals with the deeply dysfunctional du Ponts and a sibling rivalry that played out between two Olympic Gold medal winners in 1984, the wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. Of the two, Dave was the star. As played by Mark Ruffalo, he’s the go-to guy for wrestling advice and has a happy home life with his wife and two childrens. Mark, played by Channing Tatum, has always been second fiddle. He struggles to make a living after his Olympic glory, and when he is offered a luxury setup by John du Pont, with a wrestling clinic at an elaborate Pennsylvania estate, he jumps at the chance.

But there’s something deeply troubling about du Pont. He has absolutely no sense of humor. He’s completely repressed. And you have to wonder about his sexuality. His disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave) finds little to like about his association with wrestlers. And du Pont demands a sort of father/son relationship with Mark. It’s pscychologically twisted, in fact. And when Mark asks what he should call Mr. du Pont, the billionaire responds, “You can call me Golden Eagle, or just Eagle.” As it turns out, du Pont sees himself as a great American patriot, and he thinks that he’ll be able to bring glory to the U.S. with the best wrestling team that money can buy.

Before long, it’s clear that Mark is going downhill as a wrestler. Du Pont plies him with cocaine. And Mark begins to drink heavily and take more than a few hits from a bong along the way.

As most people know, “Foxcatcher,” which is the name of the team that du Pont was putting together, is based on a true story. And if you don’t know how it turns out, then it’s probably best not to spoil it here.

All of the actors — Ruffalo, Tatum and Carell — give standout performances. And the direction by Miller is outstanding. His two previous features are 2005’s “Capote” and 2011’s box-office hit “Moneyball.” He brings much nuance to the tale, and he leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination, possibly because some of the people who lived through these events are still alive.

If Monday’s critical reaction is any indication, “Foxcatcher” could be a contender for the Palme d’Or. So far, the Screen International critics poll puts Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner” at the top of the heap, closely followed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “Winter Sleep.” Tommy Lee Jones’ “The Homesman” is also in the running.