CANNES: America’s funny man Steve Carell had the Cannes Film Festival gasping in disbelief yesterday when he delivered an “astonishing” performance as a deranged, sinister millionaire in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher.
Based on the true-life 1996 murder of Olympic wrestling medallist Dave Schultz by John du Pont, a member of the family dynasty behind the chemical giant DuPont, the film saw the star of “The Office” exploring his dark side.
Also featuring strong performances from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as two wrestling-champion brothers, the riveting tragedy from the director of Capote and Moneyball had critics screaming Palme d’Or and Oscar.
Lauding an “enormous” film, Indiewire’s Jessica Kiang said the character of du Pont was “one of the most complex” and “fascinatingly” messed up ever seen on screen.
“Vocally, physically and psychologically (Carell) is not just unrecognisable, he simply is a different man, and a man whose tragic flaw is the entire story of this film.
“It’s seldom we’ve ever witnessed such a total erasure of self in a role, and it deserves to win him everything, everywhere.”
The story opens on Mark Schultz, Dave’s insecure younger brother (Tatum) who has always lived in the shadow of his loving elder sibling (Ruffalo).
When, out-of-the-blue, du Pont asks him to move to his estate and help put together a wrestling team for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Mark jumps at the chance and soon develops a father-son relationship with a man whose dark intensity is instantly unsettling.
Erratic in his moods, du Pont eventually turns on Mark and calls his more confident brother over to the sprawling estate to train the team, along with Dave’s wife (Sienna Miller) and two children.
Resentful at first, Mark eventually grows close to his brother again whilst du Pont becomes alienated from them, culminating in the tragic murder that made headlines in 1996 when the heir shot Dave Schultz.
Carell’s role is a sharp departure from previous parts played by the actor Time magazine touted as “America’s funniest man.”
But critics also applauded strong performances from Ruffalo and Tatum — the latter better known for romances and action movies.
“While Carell may deliver the most transformative turn here, it’s merely one of three supremely accomplished performances that connect thrillingly onscreen,” Variety’s Justin Chang said.
Ruffalo and Tatum met the real-life Mark Schultz, as well as Dave’s widow Nancy and friends to prepare for their roles, and trained in wrestling.
“I think we wrestled for about five or six months before. Mark (Ruffalo) and I both have a cauliflower ear as take-home presents from it, and bad knees,” Tatum joked.
Carell also met Nancy, which he said was a moving encounter.
“I didn’t meet her as myself, I met her in character which was doubly awkward because they tried to make me look as much like du Pont as they could,” he told reporters.
“It was incredibly emotional, she’s a remarkable woman — very, very giving and very understanding of what we were trying to do.
“It was an overwhelming experience for me to meet her and talk with her.”
Foxcatcher is competing for this year’s top Palme d’Or prize at Cannes.
Under the 47-year-old Miller’s direction, close friend Philip Seymour Hoffman — who died earlier this year from a drug overdose — won an Oscar and BAFTA in 2006.
Miller choked up when a journalist asked about his ability to disappear actors into roles, pointing to Carell and Seymour Hoffman’s star turn as Truman Capote.
“It makes me emotional. The last time I saw you, I was more emotional than I wanted to ever be in front of people,” he said, before pausing and stumbling for words.
“To work with actors who are willing to put faith in you, you have to be grateful for the rest of your life.”