Last year, in the wake of Oscar season, there were many questions surrounding Foxcatcher and whether or not anyone would see it. The competition was stiff, but a leaked trailer brought hope to the eyes of critics and movie-goers everywhere. Then suddenly, Foxcatcher was pushed back to 2014 for unknown reasons. Many questioned its legitimacy as a major Oscar player, while others believed that they knew they wouldn’t have a good shot in a year full of 12 Years A Slave, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, and The Wolf of Wall Street. Now, I’d say it was a smart move to shift the date and it certainly is an Oscar player.
After winning a gold medal for wrestling in the Los Angeles Olympics, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) returns to a relatively quiet life, barely making it by on his own. Each day, he goes to train at a nearby university with his older brother and gold medalist, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Dave has a wife (Sienna Miller) and kids and is constantly surrounded by people, unlike Mark. A series of phone calls trouble Mark and eventually a man named Jack (Anthony Michael Hall) speaks and invites Mark to meet John du Pont at his Foxcatcher estates.
Hesitant, but yearning to break free from his everyday schedule, Mark takes up the offer and is flown to Foxcatcher farms, where he meets the patriotic and curious John du Pont (Steve Carell ). Mr. du Pont speaks about everything Mark believes and offers him a place to stay and train for Worlds Competition and the Olympic Games in Seoul. However, Mr. du Pont also wants Dave and expects nothing but excellence from Mark. He’s accustom to getting what he wants and his questionable background, treatment of his wrestlers, and his cold looks begin to make Mark question his decision to stay and train.
Foxcatcher is a meticulously crafted, phenomenally acted, piece of dark film that leaves an unsettling feeling within you by the end. Unlike any film you’ll see in the theater this year, Foxcatcher takes its time unraveling its complex story and provides a wealth of information to the audience. It’s story is also one of disparity, psychology, physicality, and the effects that humans can have on one another. The film boasts three of the strongest male performances of the year, with two coming as huge turns for the actor’s careers. Now, I’m not in the “Foxcatcher is a masterpiece” camp, but it’s certainly one of the better films this year.
Steve Carell leaves the jokes at home and dawns a prosthetic nose that only increases the level of creepiness and fright that his character’s stares evoke. Slow with his speech and unflinching with his eyes, Carell observes and responds to the characters and settings around him, in the most calculated of ways. His deep-seeded familial issues and struggle to strive in a sport he’s no good at leaves him emotionally fragile and mentally unstable, posing a threat to anyone who disobeys him. The character is eerily brought to life by the brilliant Carell, who never misses a beat and finds his way into the the thoughts of his pupils and the audience. This is certainly his most diverse and best dramatic role to date and it’s a character that will live on because of him, whether or not that’s a good thing.
Channing Tatum also reinvents himself as a dramatic leading actor, proving that he’s much more than just a pretty face. His physical and emotional dedication to this role is unbelievable, as he adds so much extra depth and character to the wrestler living in his brother’s shadow. Tatum’s understanding of and reaction to events and characters separates this work from everything else he’s done and his chemistry with Ruffalo is really something special. Ruffalo’s big brother is not the obnoxious type most know, but is instead a gentle and caring companion that loves Tatum’s character. Yes, he’s bigger and better, but he never uses that against Tatum and is in his corner every step of the way. Ruffalo is the only one who ever stands up against Carell and in those instances, you’ll be holding on to your seat for dear life. The interactions between these three men are absolutely chilling, while at the same time curious to watch.
Director Bennett Miller has only directed three feature films thus far, with both Capote and Moneyball finding their way to Academy Award Nominations. With Foxcathcer, Miller ventures into his darkest territory yet, slowly building a story around three very different men. The film progresses in a somewhat unusual fashion, but it’s exhilarating as we get to watch Tatum and Ruffalo wrestle in real life. The focus on Foxcatcher farms, the history of the du Pont family, and the focus on John du Pont’s fascination with the Schultz brothers sets some freaky undertones, which gradually grow larger over time. Miller’s long takes and eye for facial expressions and how they’re interpreted is masterful and that eye makes for yet another ally when it comes to deciphering this film.
For a film a little over two-hours long, Miller sure does take his time with this story and loses some steam in the middle. The initial set-up is slow, but interesting enough to carry us into the main events in the film. Accompanying the slow pace is a relatively quiet score that’s overcome by the little dialogue and long stares. There’s some analysis and exploration of du Pont’s character and his current state, but Miller chooses to focus more on the Schultz brothers, leaving many unanswered questions about what really went on. It’s obvious that du Pont isn’t completely sane, but it would have been nice to see more of what makes his character tick and to see more of how he affects his wrestlers. A lot is left to our imagination and this time around, I don’t believe enough evidence was provided for us to make sound judgement and interpretations.
Foxcatcher is often a petrifying study of three men, bound together by wrestling and a questionable agreement which also raises some eyebrows. John du Pont was an abnormal man who seemed to be making up for what he missed out on in life and Carell plays him almost too perfectly. I won’t be able to shake his stare for weeks and it’s even more frightening to recount the way with which he spoke to Tatum and Ruffalo. These three men are all deserving of the awards attention which they’re garnering, as is Bennett Miller. This film doesn’t flow as well as it could and it certainly would have benefited from more character study, but Foxcatcher is an extremely thrilling film which certainly leaves its mark in your mind. The uneasy feeling has yet to leave me and I feel as if I’m being drawn back into this grim, intriguing world which these men created.