Directed by: Bennett Miller || Produced by: Bennett Miller, Megan Ellison, Jon Kilik, Anthony Bregman
Screenplay by: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman || Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller, Anthony Michael Hall
Music by: Rob Simonsen, West Dylan Thordson || Cinematography by: Greig Fraser || Edited by: Stuart Levy, Conor O’Neill, Jay Cassidy || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 134 minutes
Bennet Miller’s 2014 film about world-class Olympian wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz and their relationship with neurotic billionaire and philanthropist John du Pont is one of your quieter, more contemplative, intimate sports dramas. As it concerns the individual combat-grappling sport of freestyle wrestling, Foxcatcher is very much about its protagonist’s battle against himself and his own mind more so than any physical competitor. Like other psychologically minded and family-dynamic-oriented sports dramas (e.g. Rocky , The Karate Kid , The Fighter ), Foxcatcher of course concerns both the antagonistic and benevolent social aspects around its main character, Mark Schultz, but the film’s central focus is almost entirely on Mark’s (Channing Tatum’s) psyche and how his emotional insecurities and “mental toughness” determine his athletic success or failure far more than his actual athletic talent or physical ability.
That being said, much of what makes Foxcatcher so interesting is how its bizarre “friendship/rivalry-triangle” is constructed around Tatum’s central character and how every piece of this relationship dynamic is fleshed out just enough (but not too much) to tell a complete story of mental struggle and emotional turmoil against athletic competition. We relate to and get to know Tatum’s character the best, but we also understand where Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and John du Pont (Steve Carell) are coming from, both personally and emotionally, to a large extent as well.
Arguably the strongest aspect of Miller’s direction of the well-written screenplay courtesy of E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman is how he conveys complicated character development, both antagonistic and sympathetic relationships, and character emotional statuses with as little dialogue as possible. Foxcatcher is a very quiet, subtle film, but it is not a dull, overly-talky drama that tries to bash you over the head with its message or overarching opinion of its characters, nor is its imagery overly complicated or its depiction of the relationships described therein pretentious or preachy.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Foxcatcher is that all three of its principle actors do great jobs in their leading roles. Generally, there’s some hesitancy to take comedic or blockbuster actors seriously in quieter, more dramatic roles like this, particularly with regards to actors with similar pedigrees as Steve Carell or Channing Tatum. Mark Ruffalo is a regular to these sorts of artsy, contemplative dramas and expectedly turns in a solid and empathetic performance. However, it’s Tatum and Carell that really surprise as the emotionally fragile Olympian and unbalanced aristocrat, respectively. Tatum was very well-cast in hindsight, as his physique and face lend itself well to an angst-ridden professional athlete, and his awkward but fascinating relationship with Carell is the main selling point of the film.
Altogether, most people who enjoy sports dramas of any archetype should be able to enjoy a lot of what Foxcatcher has to offer. It’s a bit too calm and quiet at times, and rarely if ever is the film truly explosive or exciting, but at the same time it is almost constantly fascinating to watch. The movie is alluring in a very quiet sort of way, with intermittent periods of adrenaline spikes, much like Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull (1989, which is always a complimentary comparison). The only bad thing about the movie that ever truly distracted me was Carell’s rather awkward, extremely fakey-fake makeup. Besides that, though, Foxcatcher is a fine thinking man’s sports film, sacrificing no amount of physicality for much sharper intelligence than your average Karate Kid or Miracle (2004).
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Though Miller is no slouch as a capable, meticulous director, its Foxcatcher’s script that’s the main star here. The story is bursting with intimate, covert detail that’s neither pretentious in its delivery nor overly cryptic in its placement. The screenplay boasts strong characters, good pacing, and an emotional climax. Tatum and Carell both deliver capable, nuanced portrayals of psychologically wounded and evolving characters that are interesting to watch and root for. Ruffalo is as solid and reliable as always.
— However… Carell’s makeup distracts from his character more than the actor’s comedy-star-persona ever could. The film does have its slow parts and aspects of the story are somewhat predictable.
? The one thing that could’ve capped off this film would have been a sick double-leg takedown in Tatum’s Olympic trials. Oh well, there’s always the UFC….