Though it took eight years, Oscar-nominated director Bennett Miller finally realized “Foxcatcher.”
Opening today, the film tells the dark story of the eccentric millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), who coaxes wrestler brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) to his estate to help him form a world-class wrestling team to compete in the Olympics.
Trying to get the film made was difficult, says Miller (who directed “Capote” and “Moneyball”) because it was about so many different relationships and themes. “It's not a simple pitch,” he says.
Finally financed thanks to backing from entrepreneur Megan Ellison, the finished “Foxcatcher” is told through many wide, sustained shots.
“The style of the film is not so much about telling a story but observing one. There's something voyeuristic about the experience,” Miller says. “It lent itself to a lot of wide shots and very tight shots. Either you're outside it or you're deeply inside it.”
The style also showcases the wrestling in a very clear way, highlighting months of training that Tatum and Ruffalo put in to appear like Olympic gold medalists. Miller tells a story about “Saturday Night Fever” in which John Travolta showed up to an early cut of the film, saw his dancing had been chopped up into myriad shots, and insisted it be put back into a few wide shots.
“These actors kill themselves to get their bodies in shape and learn it, and you want to see it,” says Miller.
One striking early scene shows Mark showing up for his daily training. Dave emerges from an office, and they begin wrestling, all in wide, long shots; it's a routine, familiar, but somehow fresh.
“They're so good in that scene,” says Miller. “I found that I could eliminate 20 minutes of scenes that had preceded it that were designed to communicate who they were and who they were to each other… because you get it.”
As for Carell, Miller says he was such a natural athlete, a hockey player, that he was too good to play du Pont. “He happens to be very athletic and graceful, and physically adept. He really had to somehow, undo his natural ability,” he says.
Apparently the training was so rough on the actors that when the final scene was shot, the leads simply held each other and cried, Miller says, “partly because they knew they would never have to wrestle again.”
IF YOU GO
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave
Written by: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes