May is eye-poppingly early to begin seriously talking about awards season. But there's no arguing that Foxcatcher, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on Monday, is going to attract a lot of Oscar talk.
The film, directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball) and penned by his Capote screenwriter Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye (Band of Brothers), is based on a tragic true story about how multimillionaire and paranoid schizophrenic John du Pont sponsored Olympic wrestlers and brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, only to end up murdering the latter sibling. It features two expectation-challenging turns from stars Channing Tatum as Mark and the usually comedic Carell, who's nearly unrecognizable in a prosthetic nose as the unstable du Pont.
But Foxcatcher, which will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on Nov. 14, is more than Oscar bait. It's a subdued, fascinating, and darkly American drama about talent, money, and power. Its characters talk about patriotism, morals, and family, but are entangled in relationships that are fundamentally and uncomfortably transactional. Du Pont, the heir to his family's fortune who's living on the sprawling Pennsylvania estate of the title, is serving as a patron of a sport with a long history and little money behind it — but he's also buying himself a stable of athletic young men to be his friends and to call him a coach and mentor, despite his lack of experience.
As du Pont, Carell carefully walks a line between awkward and unbalanced, playing a character who can be funny, but who's devoid of any sense of humor or self-awareness — the type of person who doesn't realize he's never not gotten what he wants, even when it comes to people. On an apparently recent whim, he plucks up Mark from a routine of impoverished training and offers him lavish resources. Tatum's role is more central and less showy than Carell's, but he's brutishly heartbreaking as the younger sibling of the better-known, more socially adept Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who has a wife, children, and a life of his own. Muscly and inarticulate, Mark's world revolves around only wrestling, and, for a while, du Pont seems to be offering not just financial freedom, but actual companionship and connection for the apparently friendless athlete.
It obviously doesn't end well — but Miller's portrayal of the story of du Pont and the Schultz brothers is an understated but weighty tragedy about lonely men and the parallel tracks of money and skill. One can't equal the other, but the former certainly allows you more of a luxury to try.
David Cronenberg's Cannes entry Maps to the Stars is also a film about the business of relationships, only its breed of celebrity is far less specialized and far more readily monetized than anything you could find in amateur wrestling. It feels like a showbiz-centric sibling to the director's last film, 2012's Cosmopolis, which took on the world of finance — and both feature Robert Pattinson in a limo, only this time around, he's just the driver.
Maps to the Stars has plenty of name-dropping, biting Hollywood satire — the screenplay is written by Bruce Wagner, who's spent his career skewering the industry in films and novels like I'm Losing You, and the film features profanity-spewing child actors fresh out of rehab, fading stars delving into their (possibly invented) abusive pasts on talk shows, and Carrie Fisher as herself. But it mixes these elements in uneasily with stranger, more mythic themes of incest, ghosts, and self-immolation, with Mia Wasikowska setting the plot in motion as Agatha Weiss, the scarred, schizophrenic daughter of a powerful Hollywood family who returns to L.A. after a legally mandated stint in a mental institution.
I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the chilly Maps to the Stars, but it's a consistent entry in Cronenberg's recent explorations within ruthless industries, from the Russian mafia (Eastern Promises), to the early days of psychoanalysis (A Dangerous Method), to Wall Street (Cosmopolis). But its vision of Hollywood may seem even crueler than those due to the ways in which its characters pretend or believe they're not monsters, even as they betray or undercut each other. John Cusack, for example, plays a particularly awful Vibram-sporting self-help guru who seems indifferent to his own family, while Olivia Williams plays his wife and momager of 13-year-old franchise star Benjie (Evan Bird).
But it's Julianne Moore who's the standout as the brittle, needy Havana Segrand, a second-generation actress who's a disaster of ego and insecurity. Havana insists her assistant come into the bathroom while she's on the toilet so she can give her a list of chores, then reacts with astonishing, elaborate spite when the girl comes in late. Living in a cushiony, moneyed bubble, she's congratulated for simply existing, but is filled with desperation underneath as she senses her time running out. It's a boldly, fantastically dislikable role, and Moore gives it her all in a way that holds the movie together and alone would make it worth a watch. Maps to the Stars doesn't yet have U.S. distribution, but someone's sure to pick it up.