A Minor Disappointment
Director Bennett Miller has done extraordinary things. He made 2011’s excellent Moneyball. He directed the Oscar nominated Capote (a film that should have won Best Picture, but we won’t get into that). Even his 1998 documentary The Cruise about a New York City tour guide was released to rave reviews. He’s a technical marvel, a director adept at wrangling great performances from A List actors.
His latest film, Foxcatcher, is no exception. Pulling outstanding work from the much maligned Channing Tatum and Office alum Steve Carell, Miller’s tale of an unraveling millionaire should be among my favorite of the year. Sadly, due to its plodding pace and non-existent characterization, it might not even crack my Top 10. A solid film that falls a few notches short of amazing.
Carell plays the real life John du Pont, son and heir to the du Pont family fortune. Blessed with limitless means and no talent with which to use them, du Pont decides to invest in the wrestling career of Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz (Channing Tatum). The two develop a father / son relationship but when Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) gets added to the mix, tensions mount. John refuses to be second best.
The main attraction is Steve Carell’s remarkable work as the eccentric du Pont. While he doesn’t completely disappear into the role, he embodies the frailties and dangers of being a 60 year old spoiled rich kid. His knack for holding onto tense moments with stillness and control makes every scene brim with uncomfortable moments. It’s a daring and difficult role that he absolutely nails.
The objects of du Pont’s creepy obsession with American wrestling are the Shultz brothers. Tatum’s turn as Mark is full of relentless drive while Ruffalo plays Dave with kindness and an unyielding sense of brotherly love. It’s great to see Tatum prove himself as a versatile actor and further shed his Twilight years.
Bennett captures everything with an icy, stoic eye. While his movies tend to run on the “colder” side, Foxcatcher is absolutely frigid. Despite a reel’s worth of wonderful shots, very little is done to flesh out the characters beyond their story points. With a real life tale full of fascinating people, more attention should have been paid to who they are as opposed to what they did. Tatum could have been more than a driven athlete, Ruffalo could have been more than a doting brother and Carell could have been more than a rich guy with mommy issues.
The result is a tragically missed opportunity. If the characters were more interesting, I wouldn’t have minded Bennett’s slow direction but as it sits, the deliberate pacing becomes tedious and almost boring. This is even more apparent at the film’s conclusion. If you know the real life ending of the Shultz / du Point saga, there won’t be much punch to the final ten minutes.
I always side with actors and with a trio of outstanding performances, Foxcatcher is still a film worth watching. It saddens me to label it as a very minor disappointment. While not fleshing out the characters is the film’s cardinal sin, the overall themes of obsession and self worth are firmly intact. A thin movie full of fine acting, Foxcatcher is a slow yet solid real life story. It just could have been so much more.
Score: 7.5 out of 10