Creepy mood pervades riveting ‘Foxcatcher’

In the decidedly non-comedic “Foxcatcher,” Steve Carell plays a guy so obviously bizarro that his success in life as a public figure could only have happened for one reason. He was filthy rich.

Throughout this movie, there’s a sense that people are looking at John du Pont and just barely holding it together. Their body language says “Can you believe how weird this guy is?”, but their behavior says, “Hey, as long as he’s writing the checks …”

Du Pont inherited fabulous wealth, and toward the end of his life decided to spend a lot of it on wrestling. He built a state-of-the-art practice facility at his Pennsylvania estate, Foxcatcher, and acted as a figurehead coach for Olympic athletes there.

The story culminated in violence, but as the movie tells it, there was plenty of strange behavior even before the tragic end. Director Bennett Miller (“Capote”) has created a film that exists almost entirely as a single, sustained, skin-crawling mood.

We enter the Foxcatcher world through the eyes of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a talented young wrestler perpetually in the shadow of his good-guy older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Du Pont gives Mark his big break, putting together an Olympic team in the comfy confines of the estate.

One of the film’s most interesting aspects is the way it’s about the inescapability of family dynamics. Mark can never entirely shrug off Dave’s influence, just as du Pont chafes under the gaze of his imperious mother (Vanessa Redgrave).

The film, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, tends to hit the same notes over and over. Even so, it does create a squirm-inducing atmosphere, a lot of which has to do with how dialed-in the actors are.

Tatum lumbers around, his chin jutting out, like a guy concentrating really hard on keeping up with what everybody else is talking about. He and Ruffalo both hold their arms out at their sides, as though spending so much time on the wrestling mat has made them ready for combat at all times.

And what about Carell? The comic actor is trapped in some unfortunate makeup, with a fake nose that nearly justifies the nickname that du Pont prefers for himself, the “Golden Eagle.” Still, Carell is impressive, engaged in a perpetual staring contest with the world, drawing out his responses because nobody ever rushes the rich guy, and speaking in a thin, high voice.

His scene in a helicopter with Tatum as they prepare for a public event is a gem of hilarious oddness. If “Foxcatcher” is intended to display how privilege can distance people from reality, it has succeeded. In this case, incredible wealth looks like no fun at all.

“Foxcatcher” (3 stars)

A skin-crawling film about how millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) bankrolled Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), with tragic results. The movie tends to hit the same notes over and over, but the mood is sustained and the actors are fascinating to watch.

Rating: R, for language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Meridian, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, Thornton Place Stadium 14

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