Foxcatcher (2014) (R)
For a movie about wrestling, “Foxcatcher” is anything but a sports movie. Director Bennett Miller has proven that he enjoys delving into unexplained psyches more than he enjoys a thrashing good action movie so here again we have to balance the violence and action of wrestling with the long, dry drama associated with Miller.
But this doesn’t mean that he can’t make a damn good movie, because his previous works say otherwise. With his breakout, “Capote” he rocketed Philip Seymour Hoffman towards his only Oscar and with “Moneyball” he almost landed Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill statues.
He is a man’s director, for men only, by men only and it comes as no surprise how “Foxcatcher” plays out like a boy’s party only. Still, the trifecta of acting that comes from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and Steve Carrell (who seems like a shoe-in for an Oscar) is almost overwhelmingly good and it makes up for the minor faults of the picture.
At the opening, Mark Schultz (Tatum) is an overlooked Olympic gold medalist wrestler. In the first scene of the movie, we see him speak at a small school to a group of maybe forty kids. He gets twenty dollars for this. His brother, Dave (Ruffalo) is not doing that much better in monetary terms, though he seems like the happier of the pair.
Mark seems a bit unhinged, even by his own terms. When we see him wrestling with his brother, he seems to get frustrated easier and even smashes Dave’s nose in, simply because he seems a little tense. But he’s trying to get it together, trying to help himself as the world championship is looming over his head.
And then...he gets a phone call.
John du Pont (Carrell) is an incredibly wealthy self-described patriot and he has taken an interest in Mark. Wrestling is this ornithologist and philanthropist’s hobby and passion. He lives with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) on their estate...she owns horses that compete in competition. He owns men.
John “Golden Eagle” du Pont, lobbies for Mark to move to the du Pont estate and live for wrestling. Offering a position that lays and a life of almost opulence, John hooks Mark as soon as the dollar signs start floating around. But this isn’t a movie about wrestling, even though the training and the competition scenes are by far the movie’s best...instead, this is a movie of dueling, warring, and compatible personalities. As the movie’s embodiment of the point of contention, John du Pont is a character who seems more than a wee bit odd. He obviously has mommy issues and is longing for some sort of irrational and complete (though probably unobtainable) independence. He finds a small slice of this with wrestling.
So Mark moves to the du Pont estate and then the pressure starts being put on him to bring his brother to the estate as well.
Dave is not so eager to throw his life away and move to Pennsylvania to the Foxcatcher wresting center; but John is so intent on getting him there that he intends to name any price for Dave’s presence; but Mark tells John: “You can’t buy Dave.”
Here’s the largest problem with the movie: the audience.
We are so used to seeing Steve Carrell as the comedic actor and we’re used to him making us laugh. When John, who is completely socially inept, starts to unravel a little under the slightest duress and beings to be painfully awkward, the audience laughs. Hey, it’s Steve Carrell he’s funny, we should laugh! No, that’s not the appropriate reaction. For me, it’s uncomfortable to see John start to become even more unbalanced—the spiral down didn't exactly surprise me. Then again, it's in the trailer, so why should I be shocked?
The issue is of Bennett Miller’s prowess and handling of the drama. It’s so un-sentimental and so rigid in its structure that the few moments that break out of this are spectacular while the rest of the movie remains flat...a good flat, but flat nonetheless.
For as showy of a role as John du Pont is and how Steve Carell really does a great job with it, he is seen better in “Little Miss Sunshine”. In terms of this movie, it has to belong to Mark Ruffalo who gives the best performance of his career. Also, surprisingly, Channing Tatum is remarkably good. When you bring together minds that are not in their full capacity and then you but them under stress, you cannot expect the results will be good; but they will be good for the story.
Beautifully shot, “Foxcatcher” does remind me the most of “Capote”, lacking the analysis of a complex main character.
Bleak in the best sense of the word, “Foxcatcher” tracks Mark’s start of training through some of his more major competitions. The relationship between John and Mark becomes very close and John starts to want to form the wrestling team for the United States to take to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics. “Foxcatcher” is more interested in the individuals than it is about the plot, and this works for most of the movie. Still, Miller evokes such strong emotions that are left unresolved; but purposeful.
It could have been a masterstroke, but it is lacking something essentially gritty. Blood, sweat, tears, violence, physicality—”Foxcatcher” should have been even more suspenseful than it was; but something was lacking and I can’t quite put my finger on what that was.
It still remains a stirring work and very calculated. Certainly one of the year’s best and filled with marvelous performances.
Posted by Micah Jones