Foxcatcher (2014) – Movie Review

A film that takes its time presenting its case, Bennett Miller’s wickedly brutal “Foxcatcher” entices audiences to learn more about the questions around us, and where they could lead. Seated firmly in the center are a trio of dazzling performances from Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, and Mark Ruffalo, all of which make a compelling case for their career best works.

Written by Oscar-nominee Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye, “Foxcatcher” tells the story of Mark Schultz (Tatum), an Olympic wrestler who befriends billionaire John Du Pont (Carell) in the mid-1980’s. Along with his brother Dave (Ruffalo) and his wife Nancy (Sienna Miller), that new relationship leads to unforeseen consequences.

At the core of this morality tale is Bennett Miller, the Oscar- nominated director of “Capote” and “Moneyball.” He allows”Foxcatcher” to study its subjects, and give the audience an in-depth understanding of all the motives involved. With the help of Cinematographer Greig Fraser, and composer Rob Simonsen, the movie’s melancholy atmosphere is truly compelling. Miller’s brilliance isn’t in things he chooses to show, but in the things he chooses not to. He draws out scenes that offer so much to the narrative. There’s still so much left on the table that we do not know, which in itself, is perfectly acceptable. Life never gives us all the answers we seek. Miller, Futterman, and Frye understand this. Material like this calls to be made into a film. I’m so glad that these three answered the call.

What Steve Carell achieves as John DuPont is not just a performance by a full embodiment. With strength and precision, he understands DuPont, a man with an extreme outlook on reality. Carell doesn’t just ask us to sympathize with John, between his awkward behavior and his constant yearning to impress his family’s legacy, he demands our understanding. If I didn’t already know about the film for the past two years, I wouldn’t have recognized him. His performance is completely focused and profound. Looking at the way he carries himself through the film, you are witnessing one of the purest creations of a character this year. When he’s not on-screen, you’re secretly wishing he was.

When it comes to Channing Tatum, I have to admit that I never FULLY understood the appeal. Discovered the young ferocious actor in Dito Montiel’s “A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints” nearly a decade ago, and afterwards was only mildly entertained by his presence in films like “21 Jump Street” and “Side Effects.” What he does in Miller’s film is something beyond anything I could have ever thought he could do. Tatum doesn’t just do an imitation, he channels the inner workings of a man desperate for more. His peculiarities are richly on display as he yearns for a father figure outside of the shadow of his more successful brother. He embraces the odd DuPont, against all logical instincts, but you can see exactly why he would feel so compelled to do so.

Mark Ruffalo gives Dave the ticks and beats of an original creation. Picking at his beard (something I know all too well), constantly engaging in team leadership, and hugging his younger brother whose more of a son than anything. Ruffalo mounts himself on the perch of a loving brother just trying to create success for himself and his family. This is another solid outing for him.

Co-star Vanessa Redgrave, as John’s fragile mother, is marvelous in her short scenes while Sienna Miller adds a needed dynamic to understanding both Mark and Dave. The two women both offer compassion and balance.

“Foxcatcher” is terrifying, disturbing, and utterly engaging. A slowly unraveled piece that is risky but pays off immensely. It’s cautious yet strictly well-defined as a character study. Like all great films with great performances, its element of truth is plainly apparent. On the gray-skied farm, we will get to know three interesting men, some of which, we’ll never truly understand.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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