Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave
The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul – a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.
Like the term, “legendary”, the word, “masterpiece” can often be bounded around when it’s unworthy – rendering it effectively worthless. Since its festival release (including last year’s London Film Festival), Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, a movie about the real-life tragic story of Mark and David Schultz’s relationship with multi-millionaire John Du Pont, has been branded a “masterpiece” by some within the media (well, apart from Mark Schultz who has since gone against the project). But is Foxcatcher really a masterpiece?
Without question, one of the biggest selling points of Foxcatcher are the superb performances on show from the main cast. Channing Tatum again shows that he is a more than a pretty face who can pull out awesome comedic turns as the lugheaded Mark Schultz and pulls out some of the best moments in the film, as his passion for winning gets the better of him. Likewise Steve Carell, caked under an enormous amount of make-up and prosthetics, is virtually unrecognisable as the eccentric John DePont in both physical and mental terms. This is not the sort of performance one would expect from a man who was once paid to say, “I love lamp”, but it’s the sort of showing that proves that he can be more than just a clown. Carell also doesn’t allow the make-up to do the acting for him, as he sinks into the role of Du Pont magnificently. Mark Ruffalo nearly steals the show as David, but given that he has pulled out stellar performances like this left, right and centre, it comes as a smaller surprise when compared to Tatum and Carell.
Ignoring how accurate the story is surrounding Foxcatcher (Mark Schultz has gone back and forth on its authenticity, but there are some obvious timing issues), this dramatic re-telling of real-life events is pretty gripping. You can empathise with Mark due to Tatum’s good-natured performance, but you will also fear him due to the intensity he brings to the role. Du Pont’s relationship with his over-bearing and wrestling-hating mother is interesting, if under developed, and the brotherly bond between Dave and Mark brings about some of the better parts of the film. There is one scene in particular with Mark trying to lose mass quickly to make weight without the help of Du Pont that is masterfully told by Miller, and its moments like this where Foxcatcher really shines. The underlaying themes of homosexuality (which were reportedly true, but never with Schultz) and Mark’s drug and drink addiction are nice touches and subtle enough that it feels like Miller is holding your hand
The issues with the story, and the film itself however, is that there are no peaks nor are there troughs. The tone starts at one level and continues its course until its dramatic conclusion, like driving down a busy road in one gear. There is a sense of foreboding throughout (again, brilliantly done by Miller), but the film never feels like its building towards anything, even though there is so much to build to. Furthermore, the decline of Mark Schultz is glossed over far too quickly. In one scene he’s fine, the next he’s a drug addict. That’s not to say that Miller should have resorted to downfall montage, but Schultz’s new persona and therefore his altered relationship with Du Pont isn’t fully realised. When you break it down, the relationship between Mark and John should be the driving force, but the Du Pont family dynamic and the parentless-brother duo are far more interesting. Ultimately, this is John Du Pont’s story, but the focus is put on Mark.
What’s odd is that Foxcatcher really isn’t a bad movie – it’s just the pieces aren’t always in the right place and the plodding pace often lets it down. There is a fascinating story in the Foxcatcher Farm, and Miller arguably got the best version of events, but it feels a bit empty. If it weren’t for the ending, Foxcatcher could border on forgettable. Forgettable with brilliant performances, but forgettable none the less.
With Oscar-bait written all over it, it’s easy to be cynical about Foxcatcher, but there is a great film to be found in here. Carell and Tatum have never been better, and they may never better their performances here while Ruffalo once again shows that he is an acting powerhouse that can hang with the very best. And yet something feels lost. Ignoring all of the inaccuracies of the story, Foxcatcher is a brilliant-yet-sadly flawed drama that feels like it should be better than it is. Nowhere near the “masterpiece” some claim, but certainly not a dud.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.
You can listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of Foxcatcher using the player below: