Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum and Stave Carell in Bennett Miller's new movie, FoxcatcherEntertainment One

"I am giving them a dream, and I am giving America hope," says American millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell); one of the many deluded platitudes he delivers in Bennett Miller's chilling new sports movie, Foxcatcher.

Even if you're not familiar with the tragic true story of brothers and Olympic wrestling champions Mark and Dave Schultz, you can intone pretty early on that hopes will be vanquished, and dreams will become nightmares.

Miller's third picture is a disturbing, indeed suffocating experience, during its 134 minute running time; a sports story on the surface with dark themes about power, patriotism and fraught family ties lurking underneath.

The film follows Mark (Channing Tatum), who despite winning gold at the 1984 Los Angeles games, has never escaped the shadow of his more successful brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), nor his humdrum existence working at a rundown gym in Cleveland, Ohio.

It's no surprise then that when eccentric millionaire John du Pont offers Mark the chance to join his self-funded Foxcatcher wrestling team, he immediately relishes the chance to step in to the limelight. Needless to say that after an auspicious start, things soon take a turn for the tragic.

Miller previously directed Moneyball and Capote, which is fitting as this seems a cross between both; a cold, forensic examination of what drives people to succeed, whether it be in the sporting world or elsewhere.

January film preview: Birdman, Foxcatcher, The Theory of EverythingIBTimes UK

Tatum is terrific as Mark, a muscular man-child whose stocky size hides his frail insecurities. Given limited dialogue, he is nonetheless the focal point of the film whose changing relationship with du Pont, from puppy-eyed pupil to dejected drug addict, always feels believable. It's a shame that in the film's third act his character fades out of the picture, but that is always the problem when adapting true-life stories; they hardly ever make for perfect narratives.

As a former state wrestling champion, Ruffalo brings authenticity to Dave, the loving elder brother and real hero of the piece. But its Carrell's left-field turn as du Pont that has got critics talking, and rightly so.

It's a spellbinding, completely off-kilter performance from the regular comedy actor. The protruding false nose, fake teeth, softly spoken rasp and stilted walk all add to create a grotesque, alien figure that fills every scene with immediate unease and ominous dread.

Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in FoxcatcherEntertainment One

Just as alien is the palatial du Pont residence, an opulent estate filled with old paintings, photographs and other symbols of the family's powerful past, all showing du Pont's background to be a world away from the working class suburbs the Schultz brothers grew up in. The only other person residing in the mansion is du Pont's mother, and the references to Psycho definitely do not stop there.

Whilst Mark dives headfirst in to this oppressive world before realising what he's caught up in, Dave is a lot more sceptical of du Pont's plans. "What does he get out of all this?" he asks, a question that hangs in the air over every scene at the Foxcatcher facility.

The enigma that is du Pont is the engine that drives the movie through its various scenes, some spellbinding; others rather more languid. An adherence to real life events leaves Foxcatcher uneven in places, and it might not be quite as profound as it strives to be, but there is no question that this is Miller's best film yet.

His shrewd direction, letting the tension simmer in the background through detached wide shots and minimal use of music, rather than signpost every gearshift in the story, makes the film's finale all the more devastating. Like one of Mark and Dave's wrestling moves, this is a film that grabs hold of you and won't let go.

Film Star Rating Four Stars