Bennett Miller has done a few fascinating things with Foxcatcher. He’s made a chilling, calculated drama with knockout performances all around. It’s unfortunate though, that the script leaves a lot to be desired. With minimal dialogue, Miller lets the camera do the talking, which provides for some solid characterization but little impact.
Foxcatcher tells the true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who strikes up a friendship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who is sponsoring Team Foxcatcher for the 1988 Olympic Games. Du Pont takes a liking to Schultz, and the two form an unlikely partnership. Du Pont is driven by his disapproving mother while Schultz is driven by his personal ambition and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), also an Olympic gold medalist. Du Pont and Schultz’s friendship goes to extremes, and there is exponential buildup to a great finale. It’s an excellent story that warrants being told, but Miller struggles along the way.
The fault lies in the script itself. The film is both exciting and drab, both harrowing and unaffecting. The problem is that Miller never delves too deep into the characters themselves, and instead wants us to conclude from what we see on screen. This is storytelling 101, and could work in the right hands, but the film has many discrepancies in its characterization, especially with the character of Du Pont. Not much “happens” in the film, and we are expected to connect with Schultz when he give us little to connect to. There isn’t much of a personality to the film; it’s personality is almost nonexistent. Dark and dreary films can have character, just look at the recent Gone Girl, but with Foxcatcher there isn’t much that stands out.
What does stand out, though, are the performances. Carell is indescribable. A force to be reckoned with as John du Pont. He’s one of the scariest villains of the year. The film’s little dialogue gives every line meaning, and Carell delivers. Physically, too, he’s fascinating. Some excellent cinematography from Greig Fraser gives us beautiful shots, and du Pont’s profile is astounding. The prosthetic nose added to Carell will make you forget he was ever the star of a popular sitcom for 10 years. That’s what roles like these should do, they should separate you from your prior work. A lot of actors struggle with this, but in Carell’s case he knocks it out of the park. Supporting roles from Tatum and Ruffalo are equally as good, especially Ruffalo. Tatum, not known for films like this, makes his case as a solid dramatic actor, but it’s Ruffalo who really stands out. While he isn’t on screen too much, when he is he’s great. It’s a subtle role, requiring tight intonation and Ruffalo nails it. A family man, he’s different from his ambitious brother, and the film keeps reminding us throughout.
Foxcatcher is a polarizing film. It tackles some great themes, but it’s a jack of all trades, master of none. The depressing mood throughout seemed to suck any character of the film right out, and we’re left with a weak and uneven drama. Sure it’s a great plot, but isn’t told in the best way. Worth seeing for the performances alone, Foxcatcher wasn’t what I was expecting. I wouldn’t call it a let down, but don’t expect to be blown away.