Foxcatcher Review

Posted: December 27, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

*Spoilers to the true events the film is based on

foxcatcher__spanWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Sports movies can generally be measured on an index ranging from the optimistic to the pessimistic. The former tend to be movies depicting earnest and hardworking people who are very likable and hold high values. Generally the protagonist is triumphant by the film’s end. On the other end of the spectrum are the pessimistic films, which are usually more about more destructive and flawed protagonists and their obsession. These films tend to be less about winning or losing and more an analysis of the character. Movies like Rocky exemplify the optimistic, where movies like Raging Bull exemplify the pessimistic. Bennett Miller’s 2011 film Moneyball was something of the middle of the two extremes. The protagonist was certainly a likable guy and the film as a success story of sorts, but the film focused more on the business side of baseball and generally lacks the sensationalism the more populace sports movies strive for. Now, Miller has made a pretty firm step into the realm of the more cynical sports film with Foxcatcher, a biopic depicting the true story of a driven Greco Roman wrestler and the wealthy individual who take a serious interest in the sport.

In 1984, wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) won an Olympic Gold Medal. In the time since, his career hasn’t really taken off however. He seems to be floundering without purpose and seems to be living in the shadow of his elder brother, fellow wrestler Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). One day, Schultz receives a call from a man speaking on behalf of John du Point (Steve Carell), a multi-millionaire and air to the du Point chemical company. A self-professed patriot and a wrestling enthusiast, John takes an interest in Mark, and approaches him with an offer to be his coach. Eager for direction, Mark agrees in spite of John’s possibly damaged mind, unaware of the tragic consequences which will result from such a relationship.

Most of the discussions in relation to this film have centered on Steve Carell’s performance as John du Pont. It’s not only a role that moves away from comedy, but one that descends into dark territory. Du Pont was a very disturbed individual and this film shows his final plunge into madness and violence. Carell does a great job subverting his usual screen presence. Usually Carell uses an awkward strangeness for comedy, but here he uses that trait to achieve creepiness. It’s a very strong performance, as Carell subtlety becomes more and more frightening and unstable as the film goes, and his work is generally pretty captivating and memorable. Mark Ruffalo is also doing some interesting work as the elder wrestling brother. He uses his everyday nice guy charm to great effect, but he’s also able to transform himself into someone with a legitimate athletic physique and really sinks into the role seamlessly. Channing Tatum’s work is probably the least noteworthy, but it’s still pretty impressive. Tatum takes his usal jock type character and makes him a lot more human and sympathetic than normal. It’s also important to note that while Carell has been marketed and discussed as the film’s star, Tatum’s Mark Schultz is the real main character. All three really slip into their roles and embody a unique physicality as well.

Like Bennett Miller’s other works, Foxcatcher is very well-constructed on a technical level without ever being too flashy. The compositions are generally pretty good and the film’s visual style certainly works, but I wouldn’t exactly call the cinematography exceptional. Likewise, the score effectively underscores some important moments, but it too is pretty subdued. Still, this isn’t to say the filmmaking isn’t very strong. Miller clearly has a firm sense of control over the story and this does feel like a very precise and well calculated work. Additionally, the film clearly has some higher goals beyond a straight telling of the true story. Some themes are very inherent, such as allowing the wealthy to separate themselves and do whatever they want, and how the desperate cling to the wealthy despite the potential dangers. Additionally, the film makes a lot of references to patriotism and American imagery. I’m not quite sure what the film’s musings of the American dream and ideals amount to, but it does provide some interesting food for thought. If Miller has any major failings, it’s that he never fully immerses the viewer in John du Pont’s point of view. This is problematic because it is du Pont’s decisions which drive the story forward and there are moments where it isn’t quite clear why he’s doing what is doing. This comes into play in the finale where du Pont finally snaps and murders Dave. This is the crucial act of the film, but it feels like there’s something missing. It doesn’t come out of nowhere, du Pont is clearly on edge from the beginning, but his descent into violence should have had more focus.

Foxcatcher is a highly engaging and very well-made movie from a director who is clearly a major and important talent. Of the contemporary releases that are heavies in the Oscar race, it’s also probably the most interesting (albeit the most inaccessible) film of them all. However, I can’t fully embrace the film. The film always kept me at something of an arm’s length and I’m also not quite sure what the point of it all is. Still, I was constantly glued to the screen and find myself riveted on a scene by scene basis. It may not flow perfectly as I complete work, but I couldn’t really look away and I could see myself possibly liking even more on future viewings.

B+

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Dan. It’s a very hard movie to sit through, but the performances are so good here that there’s at least something to gaze upon.

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