- Associated Press - Monday, May 19, 2014

CANNES, France (AP) - Featuring a startlingly dramatic turn from Steve Carell, Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” premiered Monday at the Cannes Film Festival to largely rave reviews and early Oscar predictions.

“Foxcatcher” is based on the true story of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum). To step out from the shadow of his brother and fellow Olympian, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), Schultz moves into a wealthy benefactor’s Pennsylvania estate and training facility, Foxcatcher Farm. His relationship with millionaire John du Pont, whom Carell plays with a prosthetic nose and a creepy stillness, develops into a tragic psychological drama.

“It was so far outside of his comfort zone,” Miller said of Carell’s performance. “I’ve never seen Steve do anything that would give any material evidence that he could do this. We just chatted and I heard how he thought and was thinking about the character, and I had a vision for it working.”

This French Riviera festival is where many Academy Awards hopefuls debut, most recently exemplified by best-picture winner “The Artist,” which premiered here in 2011. But Cannes buzz doesn’t always translate to Hollywood. Last year’s “Inside Llewyn Davis” was a festival hit whose momentum faded before the Oscars.

While this year’s festival has already seen several films that could become award season players, including Mike Leigh’s “Mr. Turner,” ”Foxcatcher” premiered with larger expectations - and generally met them. That reflects the fact that Miller’s first two films, “Capote” and “Moneyball,” both received a bundle of Oscar nominations.

“The style of this film and my other films is not so much telling a story as observing a story,” Miller said.

Anticipation for “Foxcatcher” increased after its release was postponed from last year’s awards season, so that Miller could spend more time finishing it. Sony Pictures Classics plans to release the film Nov. 14.

“Foxcatcher” boasts several fine performances. Tatum has never better combined his hulking physical presence with vulnerability. But Carell’s non-comic turn is the most eye-catching.

“None of it felt like an acting exercise,” Carell said. “It was a different experience altogether and I credit Benedict for that.”

Tatum said he and Ruffalo spent at least five months training as wrestlers in preparation.

“Our life became wrestling,” Ruffalo said.

The stranger-than-fiction tale easily could have drifted into melodrama, but Miller’s light touch and the lead performances keep “Foxcatcher” natural. Even so, Miller described the story’s combination of elite wrestling and tragedy as “bizarre.”

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Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle