Foxcatcher Cannes 2014

The actor gives one of the most transformative performances of the year

The Oscars are eight months away still, but the unofficial kickoff to awards season happened on Monday morning in Cannes, when Bennett Miller’s new drama “Foxcatcher” was screened to journalists at the Lumiere.

The knockout performance in a cast of great performances is Steve Carell as John du Pont, the schizophrenic millionaire who in 1996 murdered Olympic wrestler David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) after befriending his wrestler brother Mark (Channing Tatum).

SEE ALSO: Cannes Film Review: ‘Foxcatcher’

Carell is barely recognizable in the part, wearing a prosthetic nose (a la Nicole Kidman in “The Hours”), false teeth and a receding hairline. It’s not just the physical transformation that’s so impressive. Carell inhabits the character from the inside. He interprets du Pont as a modern-day Norman Bates mixed with Jay Gatsby, and he prepared for the part by studying hours of footage of the real man.

“I watched as much as I could, I read as much as I could about him and tried to get semblance about the type of person he was,” Carell said in the Cannes press conference following the film. It turned out there was a lot of material to choose from, because du Point was such a narcissist, he commissioned documentaries about his own life. He made his Pennsylvania estate into a training ground for American wrestlers and called himself a coach, even though he didn’t know much about the sport.

Miller said that there was nothing in Carell’s comedic career that suggested he could pull off such a rigorous character study. But after a lunch, Miller was convinced he had it in him. “I think all comedians are dark,” said Miller.

SEE ALSO: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum in ‘Foxcatcher’ Teaser

Sony Pictures Classics, which releases the film on Nov. 14, will enter Carell in the lead actor category in the Oscar race.

“Foxcatcher” also showcases career-best performances from Tatum (the film’s other lead) and Ruffalo (in a supporting role), and both should be considered strong bets for Oscar nominations too, as well as Miller (who made trips to the Academy Awards with “Capote” and “Moneyball”) in the directing and best picture races. “We prepared pretty intensely for about five to six months,” said Tatum, adding that the wrestling practice left him and Ruffalo with bum knees. It was worth the sacrifice: “Foxcatcher” is already one of the big success stories out of Cannes.

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