Foxcatcher – Review

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Starring: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
Written for the Screen by: E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Metacritic Score: 81
IMDb Score: 7.2
Nominated for 5 Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Steve Carell), Best Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Best Director, Best Writing (Original Screenplay)
One of 10 AFI Winners for Best Movie of 2014

Rated R for some drug use and a scene of violence

Comedians (or comedic actors), when they become popular enough, end up getting career roles that shine them in a dramatic light. Some succeed incredibly well (Robin Williams), some have mixed results (Jim Carrey) and some just…well, don’t work out (Dane Cook). Yet, that didn’t stop Steve Carell from taking on the challenge of Foxcatcher, about John DuPont and his time as the coach of Team Foxcatcher. The awards he was nominated for seemed to show people liked him in this movie, but does the movie stand up as a whole?

Mark Schultz (Tatum) is training for the Seoul Olympics when John DuPont (Carell) offers him a chance to train at his facility in Foxcatcher Farms. The film chronicles the friendship, the falling out of Mark and John, and the eventual shooting of Mark’s brother and coach Jack (Ruffalo) to DuPont in 1997.

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Foxcatcher features a revelatory performance by Channing Tatum, but is otherwise an uncomfortably dull movie that plays more of a paint-by-number bio-pic than a psychological study of a conflicted, disturbed and rather odd man. The film has pacing issues, as well as just a general lack of direction that hinders the performances of all to just vignettes of well acted scenes.

Let’s clear up the main point of why many would be interested in this movie: Steve Carell gives a good impersonation of John DuPont, but his performance is hindered by the screenplay and directing. DuPont was a strange, rather isolated man and this movie does provide that nuance to show that through exposition; but instead of offering more to the character, it is used as little but to make the ends justify the means of the plot of the film.

Because of this, Carell’s performance suffers only to act as a rather spot on impersonation than of a performance of a character. At no point do you watch the film and not see Carell with a prosthetic nose: DuPont is merely an idea of what he could look like, but he doesn’t feel like a fully realized character.

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Let’s just get right down to the main problem of the movie: it’s writing and directing. The script doesn’t really have any meat, whether it’s dialogue or plot driven, to the movie itself. The best way to describe the writing is as a Wikipedia page coming to life in all of it’s “citation needed” glory: dry, to the point and life-less.

Character driven films, especially one’s about eccentrics and sociopaths, need to have ways to attach yourself to the subject at hand. Foxcatcher does none of that instead of merely pointing it out in dialogue: you never really get to feel for DuPont or for any character in the film. Characters in this movie can be described in simplistic, general tones, such as “crazy momma’s boy”, “father figure” or “person with daddy issues”.

The direction itself is rather bland as well, which is surprising from Bennett Miller, whose direction while straight to the point, is usually peppered with a great sense of pace and intellect. You get none such of that here. The film seems phoned in, to be frank: just as straight lined as the script. Except for some nice vista shots of Foxcatcher Farms, but that’s about it.

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What keeps Foxcatcher from being a complete dud is the quiet and intense performance by Channing Tatum, who truly carries the film. Every shot and motion has deft poise and a sense of direction, which show’s Tatum in a light that hasn’t been seen in him before.

His scenes of humiliation, heartbreak, discontent: all bellowed in a character that chooses not to be read or be revealed. It’s truly fascinating just to watch Tatum become this broken man and it’s incredibly disappointing that most never seem to give it the due it deserves.

Overall, Foxcatcher is a disappointing, disjointed mess. The performances really can’t be faulted, though Carell doesn’t have a breakout performance, it’s to the fault of the writing and directing. If there is one reason to see this movie, it’s Tatum’s performance. Otherwise, it’s another movie that in 5 years we’ll wonder “How did this get nominated for Best Picture?”

2/5 – Tatum is fantastic, the rest is just dull and lacks character

The Wiz Says #11

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