The quest for the American dream has been a theme that films have covered almost since they were invented, and in this time of political uncertainty it seems like it has been a well that filmmakers have turned to over and over again during the past few years. Whether it was Spring Breakers, Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street or even the TV series, Breaking Bad, the American Dream has been depicted onscreen at an almost monthly rate. So it’s not like Bennett Miller (who last somehow found a way to adapt one of the most inside baseball stories about baseball into an interesting film with Moneyball) is offering anything unique thematically with his latest film, Foxcatcher. Yet this wrestling film, like the best films about the quest for the American dream, offers an interesting look at and critique of Americana while also delivering a thrilling storyline.
Foxcatcher follows Mark Schultz (the real-life wrestler played with a striking amount of physicality by Channing Tatum) as he becomes more frustrated being stuck in his brother (an almost unrecognizable Mark Ruffalo)’s shadow in the wake of a Gold Medal winning performance at the 1984 Olympics. When multimillionaire John Du Pont (an even more unrecognizable Steve Carell) calls to offer Mark a new way to continue his wrestling career, Mark accepts. However, Mark and John’s different methods to achieve a similar goal becomes more and more dangerous as their relationship continues.
This film is American to its core. The problems at the heart of the script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman are problems that America has been facing for generations. Whether it’s how to best present America on foreign soil or how to deal with our mental health crisis, America’s challenges are brought up over and over again to the main storyline while still feeling organic in its insertion. The later is really brought to realization by Steve Carell’s performance. Carell’s transformation into the mentally challenged John Du Pont could be considered hammy but the performance is anything but as it so subtly handles the character’s many oddities. It also seems like Bennett Miller finds a way to include an American flag or eagle in almost every scene, and all of it is perfectly shot by Greig Fraser. Fraser’s work also does a great job of capturing the impending darkness with the help of a foreboding score and one of the best sound mixes you will witness in film this year.
Despite being a common theme, Bennett Miller turns Foxcatcher into one of the most darkly mesmerizing depictions of the American dream ever, and this is never better depicted than with its closing scene. As the film closes to chants of “USA, USA” we are left to watch Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz once again reinvent himself without even giving off a hint of whether he is wondering if the greatness he achieved in his last reinvention was worth the pain and death that came with it. Just like America.