Producer/director Bennett Miller’s previous two films were Oscar®-nominated—2005’s Capote (Miller was nominated for Best Director) and 2011’s Moneyball, both of which masterfully dealt with true events and explored large themes through complex character portraits of real people. Now, Miller has once again utilized those skills in examining the real-life, tragic story of a billionaire and two champion wrestlers in Foxcatcher.
It tells the unlikely-but-true story of Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his more celebrated wrestling brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), both of whom come from a blue-collar background of struggle and poverty, and whose lives are forever changed when Mark is summoned by the eccentric, wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move onto his Pennsylvania estate and train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Setting up a special training facility, du Pont ostensibly plans to build a world-class athletic team, but the complex relationships slowly unravel as du Pont descends into a self-destructive spiral that ends in murder.
It’s also an unlikely-but-true story of how Miller first became interested in the events. "A complete stranger gave me an envelope full of articles about the story at some event, something I normally wouldn’t accept, and a month later, I opened it up, began reading and I realized it was one of those special moments," recalls Miller. "I literally decided right then that I’d make a film about it, as it seemed so funny, yet really horrible at the same time. The setup meant it could just as easily have been a comedy, as it was all so absurd, but it was a tragedy."
Miller made his feature debut in 1998 with the documentary The Cruise, and he notes that, "For me, documentaries should probably feel a bit more like films, and vice versa. So when you’re shooting a documentary and there’s that great coincidence of an event, composition and light—where it’s all happening—it should really feel the same way on film."
To this end, Miller and a team that included Aussie DP Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS (Zero Dark Thirty, Snow White and the Huntsman, Killing Them Softly) and film editors Conor O’Neill, who worked on Moneyball, Stuart Levy (Savages, Any Given Sunday) and Jay Cassidy (Oscar®-nominated for American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) "went to great pains to really understand who these people were and what the story was and what the truth was—and to then re-create them to the best of our abilities, and yet to still allow things to be out of control. So it’s very controlled, but also a careful balancing act between control and lack of control. We used a lot of improvisation, and things changed from take to take, and I told Greig from the start, ‘It’s going to feel like shooting a documentary. You can’t assume you’ll ever get a second take of a great moment.’ And that was often the case."