Mark Ruffalo received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Dave Schultz in Foxcatcher.
Ruffalo kinda takes a bit of a daring approach actually because he does not necessarily avoid making Dave somewhat bland. The thing is though its not that Ruffalo's performance is bland but in this case it actually makes sense for the character to be so. Ruffalo portrays Dave as a particularly easy going guy and does suggests everything about him is fairly relaxed. It is not that he is lazy or uninterested it anything, but rather Ruffalo plays him as just a man who knows how to take things as they come. There is a likability that comes from the way Ruffalo so honestly portrays Dave's approach to life and he makes it easy to understand why it that most everyone seems to like Dave. When he is with his family or when he training other wrestlers there's a very strong warmth that Ruffalo exudes. Ruffalo gives us Dave as a man who seems to love everyone from the outset, not in a cloying or overwrought way but just in an honest fashion. Ruffalo earns the respect that Dave seems to have because Ruffalo makes Dave a great man in such a wonderfully unassuming way.
One of the most important elements in his performance is his chemistry with Channing Tatum as Dave's younger brother Schultz. The two of them are great together in the very interesting way they create the relationship between the two. Mark clearly as a man is a bit lost whereas Dave seems to know his place, but wants to help his brother best he can. There's a great early scene for Ruffalo when Mark goes to Du Pont's Foxcatcher farm, but Dave stays home for the sake of his wife and kids. Dave rejects Mark's offer but it is only love that Ruffalo conveys in this rejection as you see in his eyes that he hops that Foxcatcher will provide Mark something to make him feel whole. The most important moments together though seem to be when they practice wrestling together. It's interesting how their physical performances show the connection between the two particularly in their styles. With Ruffalo showing Dave as more commanding but almost teaching in the way he handles Mark. Even outside of sparing the way Ruffalo portrays Dave's physical interactions with Mark suggests the older's brother's care and support for his younger brother.
Ruffalo keeps his whole performance very close to his chest, although I liked his work on my initial viewing, on re-watch I was surprised by how much he does within the margins. What Ruffalo does so well is keep Dave always as he should be, not an unemotional guy, but just a guy who does not let his emotions push him into the sort of mistakes John and Mark make. Ruffalo though does subtly convey what Dave is going through. A moment like this comes in a championship when, despite Dave's coaching giving him the advantage, Mark embraces John without recognizing Dave. Ruffalo quietly conveys the disappointment in Dave and perhaps even heartbreak, but as a man who refuses to let this wear on him. Another strong moment comes when Mark is loses one match and has a breakdown that leaves him ill prepared for the next match, Dave comes in though to salvage this best he can. Ruffalo has a brilliant understated passion as Dave pushes Mark hard to overcome what has happened. Dave does not yell things out or get really energetic like, but Ruffalo is terrific and convincing in portraying the understated way Dave encourages Mark.
It's interesting the way Ruffalo conveys the way Dave does disapprove of John, although there is never a single moment in which Dave says this. A great moment is when Dave is asked to make a video promoting John du Pont, and simply that slight hesitation and discomfort as he says du pont is like a mentor to him suggest Dave's distaste for John. Ruffalo is remarkable actually in the way he basically shows a man, who probably would never insult someone directly, is forced to deal with John. Ruffalo does this through the smallest of reactions and just a general uneasiness whenever Dave and John are in the same room. Ruffalo is very effective as he kinda does show how Dave's manner unfortunately could only make John even more paranoid. This eventually leads to the tragic end of the film when John shoots Dave to death. The scene it handled in a blunt matter of fact style, and I will admit it left me cold the first time. On this viewing though it hit me much harder than expected and I think this had a great deal to do with Mark Ruffalo's performance. He does great work here in creating an honest portrait of Dave Schultz as a modest yet self-actualized man.