Steve Carell has quietly not starred in many good movies lately. After breaking through in the film world with ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ Carell seems to have been looking for his Next Big Thing ever since, and that Next Big Thing just never seemed to happen.

But, Carell was smart for not leaving ‘The Office’ until 2011 – no matter how his movies performed, he was still always in our lives on a television show that people adored. Though, since leaving ‘The Office,’ Carell has starred in ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,’ ‘Hope Springs,’ ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,’ ‘The Way Way Back,’ the animated ‘Despicable Me 2’ and ‘Anchorman 2.’ Of those movies, even ‘Anchorman 2’ underperformed. Critically, Carell didn’t garner much attention for playing a prick in ‘The Way Way Back.’ ‘Burt Wonderstone’ was an all out failure on every level.

Steve Carell needed something.

Steve Carell has found it with ‘Foxcatcher.’

‘Foxcatcher’ – directed by ‘Moneyball’ director Bennett Miller – premiered Monday at the Toronto International Film Festival after a highly successful debut at Cannes earlier this year. It’s the true story of the intricate relationship between two brothers and Olympic wrestlers -- Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) – with their wrestling team financier and sort of coach, John du Pont (Carell), of the famed and extremely wealthy du Pont family … a relationship that ends in paranoia and disaster. (If you want to know how, those facts are easily obtainable on your Google machine.)

The three principals in ‘Foxcatcher’ are fantastic. (If you’re into Oscar talk, well, yes here’s a movie for you.) But, Carell especially – somehow balancing the role of a man who could convince all of these world-class athletes to come and live on his estate, but also be deranged enough that he would be capable of the insanity on display and capable of the atrocity that he commits. (Even though this is a fairly well known true story, there was still an audible gasp in the theater at a crucial point in the film.)

There’s no joy in Carell’s performance, it’s all underlying dread, which is all the more disturbing coming from a guy like Carell. He plays du Pont as a man who can never quite get the respect he feels he deserves from his famous mother, while manipulating a man (Tatum, as Mark Schultz) who can’t escape the shadow of his older brother. Carell is downright terrifying while maintaining a sense of humanity.

Other actors best known for their comedy roles have attempted what Carell has pulled of with ‘Foxcatcher.’ Jim Carrey (who Carell co-stared with in ‘Bruce Almighty,’ which seems like a million years ago now) famously chased critical acclaim with ‘Man on the Moon’ and ‘The Truman Show,’ winning two Golden Globes, but never quite receiving the accolades that he so desperately wanted. Here, Carell has put himself on the map as an actor. It will be impossible to look at Carell the same way anymore. ‘Foxcatcher’ is a career defining performance for an actor who was losing definition.

Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.