- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2014

Director Bennett Miller’s films feature aliens — not extraterrestrials, but estranged humans who find themselves seeking acceptance in an uncaring world.

Consider the titular author of “Capote,” an effete New Yorker in Kansas researching the crime story “In Cold Blood,” or Oakland Athletics manager Billy Beane, seated alone in a vast stadium at the outset of “Moneyball.”

Alienation links and separates the protagonists of Mr. Miller’s latest film, “Foxcatcher,” which opens this week.

“I’m definitely drawn to these characters that are alienated or existing in worlds where they’re not really settled into their place in the world,” Mr. Bennett said in an interview with The Washington Times.

“Foxcatcher” is based on the true story of 1984 Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), whose glory has faded in the shadow of older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also a gold medal-winning wrestler in 1984. Mark subsequently found an unbidden patron in John DuPont, the chemical fortune scion who took it upon himself to provide money and training facilities for the underfunded U.S. wrestling program.

DuPont dubbed the private enterprise “Team Foxcatcher” after his father’s stable of thoroughbreds, and both Schultz brothers lived and trained at his expansive Pennsylvania estate.

“I think he had a vision for himself,” Mr. Miller said of DuPont’s eccentric mission. “I think he was drawn to the world of wrestling because there is a genuine fraternity among these guys, and I think he was attracted to the values of these guys who are laboring in this sport where there’s no chance of material reward. No one’s going to get rich or famous from it. I think he imagined there was the opportunity to do something similar to the 1980 [U.S.] hockey team in the Winter Olympics, because wrestling was a Cold War sport.”

The mercurial, lonely and soft-spoken DuPont is played by Steve Carell, known primarily for comedic turns in films like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” On the surface, it seems like a stretch in casting, but Mr. Miller knew he had his man.

The director said no one expected DuPont to engage in the shocking act that makes up the film’s climax. “Nobody thought he was capable of such a thing. So I wanted to cast an actor who we do not think is capable of doing what this character does, because that would be consistent with how he was perceived,” he said.

“When I spoke to [Mr. Carell] about the character, he exhibited a side of himself that we don’t ordinarily get to see. And I think that’s very common with comic actors and comedians — that there is an aspect of them that remains guarded from public view, because there’s a public persona and a private reality. This [benign] perception that people have of [Mr. Carell allowed room] for him to summon this more dangerous side to him,” Mr. Miller said.

Mr. Carell turns DuPont’s “private reality” into the ultimate nightmare for the Schultz brothers, but it is a slow, painful burn over the film’s running time that puts the looking glass to DuPont’s twisted, controlling relationship with Mark.

While DuPont and Mark Schultz were rumored to be lovers in addition to coach and wrestler, Mr. Miller treats that aspect of their relationship subtly; it is implied rather than explicitly shown.

Of Mr. Miller’s other alienated protagonists, perhaps none embodied as much the schema of the outsider as Truman Capote, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his Oscar-winning turn in 2005’s “Capote.” Asked if he recalls the last time he spoke with Hoffman, who died of a drug overdose in February, Mr. Miller nodded solemnly.

“I showed him ‘Foxcatcher’ as I was working on it,” he recalled. “The last conversation I had with him was about the film [and about the] brothers. We talked about being brothers, having brothers. That was the last time I saw him.”

Like Capote, DuPont may have just been seeking connection, but the more he tried to get outside himself, the more disastrous the results.

“I do believe that DuPont was just an incredibly lonely character,” Mr. Miller said. “And I think that his wealth and status [only] contributed to his isolation and his alienation.”

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