Sunday, November 16, 2014

Foxcatcher Review

There is a brooding sense of doom all throughout the 130-minute runtime in "Foxcatcher." The film is based on a true story and the facts are easily available if you want them, but "Foxcatcher" is best experienced without knowing too much about the actual events that occurred. No matter how much, or how little, you know about the people involved in this film, director Bennett Miller instills a tone throughout the movie that makes it abundantly clear that this will not end well. And yet, when the climax unravels, it really seems to come out of nowhere. A senseless, heinous act occurs late in the film that immediately makes you question everything that came before it. There's no doubt "Foxcatcher" will send a chill down your spine once the credits roll, but how long will it linger in your mind afterwards? Is this movie as deep as it thinks it is?

That's the question I asked myself upon further inspection. I dug the tone of the film, I dug the pace. The acting from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo is phenomenal. Steve Carell anchors the film, I can guarantee you've never seen him like this before. Was he as good as Tatum and Ruffalo? Eh... we'll get back to that.

But "Foxcatcher" did not really hit as hard as I expected it to. It's a creepy film, but not exactly haunting. It'll make you feel uneasy, but you'll be able to sleep at night. Bennett Miller insists on underplaying the drama in this film, instead wanting to let the events of the film play out as naturally and realistically as possible. In doing this, I wonder if Miller underplayed his hand a little too much. Again, Tatum and Ruffalo are fantastic in their roles, but are they really given a chance to get to the core of their characters? Together, they play the Schultz brothers, each of whom have won an Olympic gold medal, as well as countless other accolades in the sport of wrestling. Their lives are forever changed when a wealthy man by the name of John duPont takes a serious interest in their sport and offers both brothers the chance to train with him (only the younger brother, Mark, takes him up on the offer... initially).

What do we know about these brothers? Mark (Channing Tatum) is the younger of the two and the movie makes it clear that there is a part of Mark who feels he's merely in his older brother's shadow. DuPont's offer allows him to make a name for himself without the help of his brother, but there is a weirdness to duPont that makes the whole situation feel uneasy and uncomfortable. DuPont appears to have a deep interest in wrestling, but we don't really understand why. Is it to impress his mother? His mother thinks the sport is "low." Or maybe he, similar to Mark, would also like to get out from under his mother's shadow. There's something a bit childish about duPont's behavior throughout the movie, but he also carries with him a dangerous hubris. You want to feel bad for him because he ultimately seems lonely and strange. All his life he's had the silver spoon in his mouth, but perhaps he never really got enough attention when he was a kid.

DuPont has created a gym for Mark to practice in and has allowed him to invite other elite wrestlers to train with him. DuPont lets Mark stay in a guest house and gives him plenty of amenities. He claims he wants to make him great. He claims he's a patriot. But who is John duPont really? As the older brother, David, says at one point... what exactly does he get out of all of this?

The movie leaves you asking a lot of questions, but it doesn't really shake you the way it should. Channing Tatum is at his very best here as Mark. Tatum has the unique ability, with the right director, to find depth within his characters while also bringing a physicality to his role. There's no doubt his performance in "Foxcatcher" is largely a physical one, but with each wrestling match, Tatum always brings something slightly different to the table. No match feels the same in this movie. They all feel equally important and you can always feel the weight of that importance.

But there are many other times when his character feels a little too boxed-in. All these characters feel a little boxed-in, thanks to the brooding, yet delicate tone. Favoring natural-ness over melodrama works for director Miller in a lot of ways, but it also doesn't make the movie's climax feel as intense or as gripping as it should be. You can say the "matter-of-fact" approach is exactly the point, that violence can come from anywhere or anytime. Yet, I feel that there is so much more to this story that Miller's streamlined approach just doesn't give us and when you do look up the true story after the movie's over and you figure out the ways Miller and his screenwriters played with the facts, you wonder if those changes were really all that effective in the end.

I hate to sound too vague and I don't want to take the movie down too much. Ultimately, this is a very good, very solid film. Some critics have had the nerve to call this movie slow and I resent that term for a movie like this. "Foxcatcher" always hints that the events that are taking place in this movie, no matter how small or seemingly innocuous, you always get the sense that the movie is heading somewhere. It's just a question of how much the movie's payoff really get to you. For me, I just feel like Miller only really scratched the surface to a case that suggests some really fascinating complexities. And I wonder if the movie's climax is only shocking to me simply because it feels sudden or if it's because of what I know about these characters. You can decide for yourself when the movie eventually hits a theater near you.

But to close, about Steve Carell. Much has been made about his performance. He's never stretched out his acting abilities the way he does here and he deserves to be commended. He was asked to do a lot here, he's really sort-of the anchor of this film. But beyond the makeup, the hook nose, and the overall creepiness to his character, while I think Carell was very good in his role, I wasn't completely sold on the performance. I feel like Carell gets the mannerisms and some of the behavior ticks down pat, but I don't think he really goes beyond that. And that might be another factor as to why I didn't fully embrace this movie, with a movie like this, it's the great performances that matter in the end. Like I said though, I feel like each of these characters are a little boxed-in  so I don't put the blame entirely on Carell. I just don't think the screenwriters or Bennett Miller go nearly as deep with these characters as they could have.

And that's a shame, especially if you know just how long it took Bennett Miller to get this movie off the ground. I don't doubt that he and his writer Dan Futterman went through great lengths to make the movie the way they wanted to make it. Perhaps some fine details were lost in trying to make a movie so meticulously, so preciously. Perhaps, this movie is simply too controlled, too calibrated, when it really just needed to let loose.

Grade: B

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