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FOXCATCHER (review)

Review by Sharon Knolle
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Megan Ellison, 
Jon Kilik, Bennett Miller
Written by E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Directed by Bennett Miller
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, 
Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, 
Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall 

There’s a fascinating movie to be made about the true-life events surrounding wrestlers Dave and Mark Schultz and eccentric billionaire, John du Pont but Foxcatcher isn’t it.

The pre-release buzz on the film was inordinately high, with massive praise for Carell’s serious (and heavily made up) turn as du Pont. While there are moments where Carell’s humor shines through, the actor seems intent on being as absent as possible from the proceedings, as if being more present would ruin his characterization. du Pont was evidently an eccentric, socially awkward man, but Carell is so determined not to be his usually funny, charming self that he makes very little impact as the odd character.

Channing Tatum is equally opaque as the troubled wrestler Mark Schultz, who is trying to get out from the shadow of his older, more confident brother (Mark Ruffalo).

Speculation also placed Carell in the running for a Best Actor Oscar (his first), but the lead role is really Tatum’s. We’re sympathetic to Mark’s struggles, but we never really get to know or care about him. Deeper troubles are hinted at, but never revealed.

The one bright spot in the film is Ruffalo, who has less screen time than his two co-stars, but whose natural affability comes across despite the limitations of the script.

The film opens three years after the 1984 Olympics where the brothers took gold, Dave has a family and a job, but Mark is struggling. He’s taking the place of his more famous brother at speaking gigs for a mere $20.

When he gets a call out of the blue from du Pont, Mark is flattered but puzzled. He’s flown from his dingy apartment to the palatial du Pont estate, where the billionaire offers to sponsor him for the next Olympics. Mark tries to talk Dave into accepting the same deal, but Dave doesn’t want to uproot his family.

And so the pieces are set for a strange relationship of power, money, ambition, and overwhelming jealousy. We see brief glimpses of why du Pont and Mark might bond: du Pont learned at 16 that his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) was paying his only companion, the chauffeur’s son, to be his friend. Mark was raised by his brother and the two were constantly on the move. They’re both adrift and, for a moment, seem to find some hope in each other. 

Unfortunately, the film is glacially paced and we never get much insight into the main players’ motivations or thoughts. You leave the film wanting to know more: Was there a sexual relationship between du Pont and Mark?

It’s only hinted at in the film, which also glosses over some key developments after a horrible crime has been committed. (The Wikipedia article has the whole story, as does Mark’s book.  Regardless of how many details you know going in, you’ll likely need to hit up Wikipedia to fill in the film’s many blanks.)

The failure to connect may also lie with wrestling itself; It’s not a particularly cinematic sport.  unlike, say, running or racing.The settings are also decidedly unattractive, mostly dull gray gym interiors and sports arenas. Apart from the beautiful du Pont estate and his mother’s horses (which John has always hated), there is very little to catch the eye in the whole film.

It’s a film I wanted to like, having been a fan of Bennett Miller’s Capote.  But his aloof approach means we are never given enough pieces of the puzzle and never get involved in the story.

Foxcatcher is now playing in limited release.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

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