Film Review: Foxcatcher

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Foxcatcher is an actors’ showcase that might need to decide what it wants to be about, and who it wants to be about.

Retelling the true life story of the Olympic Gold Medalists Mark and David Schultz, the story picks up after their wins at the 84’ games and instead focuses on the weird relationship they form with the elite American John du Pont. I knew the major details of the plot going in and I kind of regret it after the fact. Go into this film as cold as possible, so I won’t be spoiling anything else here today.

The film at its core is a simple retelling of the events, but Bennett Miller is definitely trying to do something beyond that. Actually, the film doesn’t seem all that interested in the story details, it almost blows past a lot of the perceived major events. The film is at its best when it is examining the psyche of du Pont who has lived a life that pretty much nobody can possibly relate to. Sometimes it is almost a caricature of the 1% and their perception of society and what those below them owe them, but I think you really have to qualify that with an almost because I kind of think this might also be a spot on representation of them. Steve Carell is fantastic as du Pont and plays him with a sadness and instability that will have you nervously laughing at him throughout. He is also a wild card that you can’t get into the mind of as he reminds unpredictable all the way until the end of the film. Carell and Miller created one of the most unsettling and realistic representations of the 1% thrown up on the screen and is still incredibly relevant to this day. I just don’t feel like du Pont is the main character of the film and I think the film ultimately settles on that notion without ever being able to understand him.

Carell might be great, by Channing Tatum is my MVP as he crawls back inside himself to play Mark Schultz. Here is a guy that just exudes charisma and he somehow wipes away all of it in the part. I don’t know if it is that jutted out bottom jaw or his stick up the ass walk, but Tatum creates a sad and sobering portrait of living your life in the metaphorical shadows. If only Mark didn’t get lost in all this drama, even if it the film is just keeping to real life.

Mark Ruffalo is excellent as well here as David, but he is coming from a completely different angle than the other two guys. David has a warmth and accessibility Mark and du Pont don’t remotely touch and Ruffalo plays it perfectly against the toughness David can also exude. David gains the spotlight for the films final act, and it is compelling, but he is so absent from the rest of the film you can’t help but wonder where Mark and du Pont go.

Miller’s film has a couple of great set pieces, but the focus is a bit too all over the place. But for every questionable choice of focus the film is delightfully offbeat and bizarre. I would actually go as far as to say that the film might be borderline inaccessible to mainstream audiences. There’s no identifiable structure, nobody to really root for over most of the runtime and all of the actors are playing against types that they are known and loved for. I’m not complaining, I love that Carell and Tatum are showing us another gear, but I don’t know if the film really allowed us to get to know anyone. We get where Mark and du Pont are coming from and can understand their struggles, but the film feels like it is always keeping you at an arm’s length when it feels like it wants you to get into these guys’ heads.

Miller is a director to watch, and his trio of leads are all excellent, but something about Foxcatcher keeps you from being able to fully embrace it. Foxcatcher is worth watching for the performances alone, but Miller feels like he was on the cusp of creating something special but couldn’t quite find it.