Up next is five time Academy Award nominee, Bennett Miller’s biographical drama Foxcatcher, based on the real life story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz. Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher is rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence.
Foxcatcher follows the unique relationship of wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) and millionaire coach John du Pont (Carrell) as they train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark attempts to step out of the shadow of his more famous brother, Dave (Ruffalo), but du Pont, obsessed with victory and pride, becomes increasingly paranoid, leading to tragedy that no one could expect.
7.0 out of 10
The big buzz around Foxcatcher after its initial film festival release was Steve Carell’s stellar performance in a dramatic role. And in case you don’t know, “stellar dramatic performance” and “Steve Carell” don’t really go together. He was apparently so good that people were saying he was a shoo-in for Best Actor and that the film had a great chance at Best Picture. Yes, I did hear this chatter way back when. As you know, the film didn’t quite get there, failing to garner a Best Picture nod. This is largely due to a story structure that is unable to maintain intensity. However, largely thanks to a trio of stellar acting performances, Foxcatcher did get nominated for five Academy Awards, including two for acting and a directing nod (in the process, becoming the first film in 7 years to be nominated for Best Director but not Best Picture).
As mentioned, Foxcatcher has a really strong cast, anchored by Channing Tatum and supported by Steve Carell (well, according to the Academy, led by) and Mark Ruffalo, the latter two garnering Academy Award nominations. Tatum, known for rather silly roles (21 Jump Street, Magic Mike) or cheesy romantic roles (Dear John, The Vow), really steps into his own as Mark Schultz. He has so much determination and his character’s transformation throughout the film is evident. Ruffalo, looking totally sporting a shaved head and full beard, is at the top of his game, portraying Mark’s caring brother David as genuinely as possible
Then there’s Carell, who has completely transformed his image with this one film. I recently watched The 40 Year Old Virgin and re-watched a few episodes of “The Office” and my goodness, how different he is. Not only is his physical transformation incredible (shout-out to Makeup and Hairstyling!!!), but his mentality is incredible. To be frank, he is a complete psychopath (as the character requires). It is not hard to be seduced by John du Pont’s false persona, one that feigns support and kindness, only making Carell’s dive in absolute insanity even more dramatic and intense to watch. Probably his greatest acting performance ever, though I say with complete seriousness that it might be a step below his turn as Michael Scott
Now, despite those incredible performances, Foxcatcher was unable to remain interesting for the entire duration of the film. It is broken up into three parts, the first an exposition that is understandably slow, the second of which is the Olympics and fall of Schultz, and the third of which rushes into a frantic, emotionally dense ending.
The shift between the three parts was a bit rushed, without any build up to slur them together. For example, du Pont’s shift to absolute insanity was entirely implied rather than illustrated. In real life, du Pont did some really bizarre things. He apparently burned a den of baby foxes alive and drove around in a tank on his estate, with allegations of sexual abuse flying around everywhere. But none of this was really used in Foxcatcher, even though it could have made du Pont even crazier, making the middle section of the film all the more engaging.
Ultimately, Foxcatcher is hindered by its poor pacing, focusing too much of the film on establishing a dark, brooding tone. And this dense, admittedly interesting tone ultimately isn’t enough to make up for the lack of progress in the story. It’s rather stale for a long period of time and nothing exciting really happens till the very ending, which (without spoiling) is tragic, and an exciting conclusion to an otherwise dull movie. However, there’s no denying the strength of the strong acting trio of Tatum, Carell, and Ruffalo. Even Sienna Miller, my new favorite actress, is in it! Yet, with such inconsistent pacing, it’s hard to label Foxcatcher as anything but a disappointment, especially with all the potential it had.
7.0 out of 10
I have to admit I was a little surprised when Oscar nominations came out and Foxcatcher was not among the tiles contending for Best Picture. It had certainly generated the requisite Oscar buzz with winning performances from Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, and it scored a pair of high profile nominations with Carell for Best Actor and Benet Miller for Best Director (the issues in that category are for a whole other discussion). Personally I don’t think Foxcatcher deserved to be nominated, but it certainly has some merit as a dark and cautionary film.
Thematically it is very similar to Whiplash, a Best Picture nominee and personal favorite, in that it tackles the merits and pitfalls of controlling and abusive student-mentor relationships. We see a controlling, strong personality in John Du Pont, played by the surprisingly capable Steve Carell, contrast with the weak and underdeveloped personality of Mark Schulz, played by the surprising Channing Tatum. Despite these differences at the core of each character we also see a need to impress others and to fulfill familial expectations, a quality which bonds them but then ultimately drives them apart as Du Pont ventures further and further into the deep end.
These two performances were really what drove the movie. It was a joy to see Carell excel at a dramatic role, and he certainly deserves his Oscar nomination (though he has virtually no chance of winning and personally I think he should have been placed in the Supporting Actor category). Normally Carell is pigeonholed as the ridiculous, awkward guy in comedy films and shows, a role that he is suited for but that limits his talents as an actor. I know a lot of people who aren’t big fans of his, but I think he was exceptional in “The Office” and hilarious in Anchorman, and I sincerely hope that directors will take notice of Carell’s work and continue to cast him in dramatic roles. He certainly exceled at his creepy, off-color role as John Du Pont.
Channing Tatum was also quite exceptional. His performance was incredibly convincing as Mark Schulz, the manipulated wrestler living in the shadow of his brother’s Olympic glory; it was so convincing in fact that I almost forgot that this is the same man who walked out of a limo at prom with doves flying out behind him in 21 Jump Street. Credit the filmmakers for taking the risk to cast comedic actors in a dramatic film.
Where I lost interest in the film was its pacing. Yes, Du Pont’s manipulation and controlling of Mark required significant buildup, but the third act of the film, it’s climax, was far too short and too rushed. The first two acts were almost entirely dedicated to building the film’s tone, a brooding and dark atmosphere, but I think it was significantly enough established within the first third. I really wish Miller had shortened the middle and drawn out the end.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect about this movie is that it left me with wistful thoughts of what could have been. I went home after watching the film (at Garden Cinemas, which for those of you in the massive readership haven’t been there is by far the best theater in the area, though there is some occasional noise leakage from screen to screen) and searched up some information on the real story. I found that Du Pont was even more deranged and even crazier than then film depicted. Normally we criticize Hollywood for exaggerating history, but in this case Miller went the other way. In reality, Du Pont drove a tank equipped with a machine gun across his property. He attempted to sexually assault a few of his students. He blew of a den filled with baby foxes. He paid his wrestlers to check for ghosts in the attic. Where was this in the movie? Including these elements and eliminating that dragging middle could certainly have made Foxcatcher the final Best Picture nominee of the year.