You know, I try not to hold an actor’s career against them whenever I come to a new movie, but it’s hard not to sometimes. To wit; This movie stars the guy from The Office (a show I never cared for, even before it wore out its welcome) and the guy from the G.I. Joe movie (do I even need to say it?), and it expects me to take it seriously. That’s asking a lot right up front.
Foxcatcher is devoted primarily to John du Pont (Steve Carell, in some fairly impressive makeup) the rich, eldest son of the legendary du Pont family. Sometime in the late 80s he decided to use considerable wealth to convert a part of his Foxcatcher estate into a place for aspiring wrestlers to train for the Olympics. He’s also an inhumanly wealthy manchild, with an obsession with guns, eagles and patriotism, but whatever.
To that end he recruits Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) and his brother David (Mark Ruffalo) to head up his Team Foxcatcher into the hub of American wrestling in the late 80s. David initially refuses, but Mark agrees and quickly becomes the focus of John’s obsession. To say more would be spoiling but if you’re familiar with the real life event it’s based on, you’ll know how it ends.
Steve Carell is getting a lot of press as a front runner for Best Actor nominations (and indeed, he’s already grabbed a Golden Globe nomination) and it’s easy to see why. The movie never feels like explaining what exactly his issues are, although hints of everything from schizophrenia, to deeply repressed homosexuality to just plain entitled childishness, but it’s all on Carell to sell it.
And it’s a good thing Carell’s performance is pretty impressive. There are multiple moments in the film where the sound drops out or du Pont is otherwise silent, and Carell has to emote entirely through posture and expression. It takes a lot of work to make a schlubby aging manchild menacing, but he does it, thanks in no small part to a great score and the paired down color palette.
Most of the attention is being paid to Carell, but both Tatum and Ruffalo are pretty excellent as well. Tatum has to play a kind of forced emotional deadening that, ironically, makes him more vulnerable and easily manipulated, and he too has to do a lot of it silently. There’s a sequence towards the beginning that requires him and Ruffalo to emote through wrestling, which is pretty damned impressive.
Ruffalo is probably playing the most emotionally healthy character, which makes his performance a little smaller and less intense. He’s still pretty on point though, and his status as the one sane man in du Pont’s web makes his arc fascinating, as he’s the only one in a position to try and stop the situation from devolving. A task he is not up for.
The screenplay is another thing that really grabbed my attention. The film is too pared down to really revel in metaphors, but it’s easy to see du Pont as a stand in for some very real issues. Here is a man who obsesses over honor, patriotism and hard work, without understanding any of it. His obsession with wrestling seems to be a way to try and figure out his own deeply buried, self hating homosexuality. If I ever need to define toxic masculinity, I’m going to point at this movie and say “Pretty much that.”
The direction is the only place I’m disappointed. It’s not bad, in fact it’s often quite good, especially when it’s evoking a feeling of coming doom. It’s just very…direct and uninventive. It reminds me a lot of Capote (which isn’t odd at all, it has the same director) in that the director seems pretty content to just sit back and the let the actors do their thing, when his more recent Moneyball showed some directorial flare I’d like to see more of.
Foxcatcher is one of those pleasant surprises that comes along during Oscar season, a small movie that comes out of nowhere without a lot of hype to wow me. It’s by no means a perfect film, but it’s a good showcase for some fantastic acting, with solid direction and a great script. It might be a pain in the ass to find, but if you can, I highly recommend it.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and this movie did the impossible: Made him care about the outcome of a wrestling match.
– fantastic acting
– great script
– incredible mood building
– direction could stand to be more interesting
– first act is a little slow