Wrestler Mark Schultz forms a relationship with his new sponsor, millionaire John du Pont, as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances as both men feel inferior to Mark’s revered brother, Dave.
Year 3, Film #43
THE GOOD: Foxcatcher was supposed to be released on December 20, 2013 but was delayed to provide Bennett Miller and his team more time to complete the film. All I know is that I’ve been waiting to see this film for quite some time and I’m very glad to see the extra time paid off. This is easily one of my favorite films this year and either comes in first, or a close second behind Boyhood. Miller (who has also directed Capote and Moneyball — both extraordinary films as well) kicks things up a notch for Foxcatcher and delivers a drama, based on a true story, that gets your skin crawling.
Acting is obviously one of the key draws to this film. Praise has been heaped onto Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo (who portray Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz respectively), and of course, Steve Carell who portrays the millionaire John du Pont that finances the Foxcatcher wrestling team (named after Foxcatcher Farm, the home of the du Pont mansion). Tatum and Ruffalo both deliver exceptional performances, especially Tatum who goes through a lot more torture and turmoil because of the pressure placed on him to outshine his brother Dave, always seen as superior to Mark.
While much can be said about their performances, everyone’s been talking about Carell’s role as du Pont because it’s so out of character for the guy best known as Michael Scott on The Office. John du Pont is anything but a funny comic and Carell manages to handle it with ease. I’m not sure why I find is so surprising, especially after I’ve seen his performance in Dan in Real Life, but it is absolutely astonishing. He seems like a normal guy for the most part, but there are subtle overtones of a psychopath that become less and less subtle as the story progresses. Carell succeeds in navigating that fine balance between the normal and the psychotic in such a way that provides a real sense of unease about du Pont’s character. Something just isn’t right about him, but we never get a clear idea of what or why. Even in the end, he’s still shrouded in mystery, but at the same time it’s clear. If this doesn’t make sense or sound contradictory, just watch the film and you’ll understand what I’m talking about and how fine the line is that Carell walks.
There’s much to love about the film, and I could go on for a while about these minutia, but the other big part I’d like to talk about is the tone of the film. Bennett Miller does a masterful job at giving the film an uneasy, mysterious, and suspenseful feeling. I used these adjectives to describe Carell’s performance but it also applies to the film as a whole. One thing that’s striking is the lack of music and lots of background noise. Foxcatcher does have some music and loud scenes, but they are few and far between; something quite rare with modern films. Another great example of this “lack of sound” would be the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men.
The effect the soundtrack has on the film as a whole is tremendous. Just picture waking up in an empty room with very little light and no sounds besides the ambience of the room. All of a sudden you hear a creak to the side of you and you turn to see what made it only nothing is there. It’s creepy, spooky, and makes you scared. Then you start hearing all the little sounds you’re making squirming in your chair. This is the same feeling you get while watching Foxcatcher. You’re lulled into a false sense of security because it doesn’t sound like anything is about to happen. But while you might be relaxed for a brief moment, something is coming around the corner that is unexpected and puts you on alert. Foxcatcher plays with your emotions in many ways. Sound is just one way this film accomplishes that.
THE BAD: Overall, I don’t have any major complaints about the film. All of the characters’ transitions were done well and you could see the arcs that Mark, Dave, and John went through from beginning to end and how the various events affected them individually and collectively. The one area where I felt the movie could have used a little more explanation was the change in Mark and John’s friendship. At the beginning, the two are very good friends, they get along very well, and this leads to successes in the wrestling ring. But then, something happens that causes the two to drift apart; for John to become dissatisfied in Mark which in turn leads to tension and ultimately to Mark feeling uncomfortable around John.
The only moment I can point to is when John offers Mark cocaine before a big gala at which they’re going to speak. Mark accepts, a bit reluctantly, which leads him down an addictive path. But through this change, Mark and John remained close friends. So when things do change for the worse, it’s a bit shocking and unexpected. You still reach the destination of the path, but it’s like a little bump on the road that pops up out of nowhere.
THE TAKEAWAY: If Foxcatcher is not nominated for Best Picture this year, I will be utterly shocked. Bennett Miller creates a film that’s not only full of drama and suspense, but leaves you uneasy the whole time, not sure what to expect. Part of this is due to the sound (or lack thereof) and part is due to the acting, which is phenomenal across the board. Foxcatcher will probably nab a few nominations in the acting categories as well, although I still think Eddie Redmayne is my favorite for Best Actor over Steve Carell here. It’s an unbelievable film that was well worth the wait and delay from it’s originally scheduled release last December. And do yourself a big favor too: if you still don’t know the story Foxcatcher is based on, keep it that way. Don’t spoil it for yourself before watching the film.
Foxcatcher has been playing in limited release since November 14, 2014. It will be expanding to more theater through January 2015. For a full list of release dates, check out the official site.
THE RATING: 5 out of 5