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-[Film Reviews]-, American Independent Cinema, NORTH AMERICAN CINEMA

‘Foxcatcher’ (2014): The Thinking Man’s Sports Drama

foxcatcher poster

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, and 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 more so than any physical competitor. Like other family dynamic-oriented sports dramas (e.g. Rocky [1976], The Karate Kid [1984], The Fighter [2010]), Foxcatcher doesn’t ignore 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) psyche and how his emotional insecurities and “mental toughness” determine his athletic success far more than his physical abilities.

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Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo, right) looks after his younger brother, Mark (Channing Tatum, left), during competition. He’s the rock that holds his little bro together.

That being said, much of what makes Foxcatcher so interesting is how its bizarre “friendship/rivalry-triangle” is constructed around Tatum’s central character, how every piece of this complicated relationship is fleshed out just enough (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. Their characterizations almost feel reminiscent of a stage play.

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, as well as character emotional statuses, are explored 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; to that end, neither is its imagery overly complicated or its depiction of the relationships described therein pretentious or preachy. The film’s visual storytelling and character exploration are both very… blunt, let’s say. Its style is almost deceptively cinematic.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about Foxcatcher is that all three of its principle actors do great jobs in their starring 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, empathetic performance. However, it’s Tatum and Carell that really surprise as the emotionally fragile Olympian and unbalanced aristocrat, respectively. Tatum was a wonderful choice as the film’s lead, 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 much of what Foxcatcher has to offer. It’s a bit too calm and quiet at times, sure, and rarely if ever is the film truly explosive or exciting, even during its wrestling set-pieces; at the same time, it is consistently engaging and explores the psychological angle of athletic competition to a degree rarely seen on the big screen in any industry. The movie is alluring in a 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 awkward, extremely fakey-fake makeup. Besides that, though, Foxcatcher is an effective, unique thinking man’s sports film, sacrificing no amount of physicality for much sharper intelligence than your average Karate Kid or Miracle (2004).

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The king in the castle.

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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 reliable as always.

However… Carell’s makeup distracts from his character more than the actor’s comedy star-persona ever could. The film has its slow parts and aspects of the story are somewhat predictable.

—> RECOMMENDED

? The best thing that could’ve capped this film would have been a sick double-leg takedown in Tatum’s Olympic trials. Oh well, there’s always the UFC…

About The Celtic Predator

I love movies, music, video games, and big, scary creatures.

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