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Sony Pictures // R // November 14, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Combine a transformative role with an unnerving true story, and Oscar buzz is almost sure to emerge. This happens to be the case with Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. After crafting his acclaimed picture Moneyball, he continues to make films about sports that aren't really about the game, as it's primarily utilized as a backdrop for other content to take over. With its premiere at Cannes Film Festival, it was greeted with a lot of Oscar hype, but is it all legitimate? We should all be weary of the film festival buzz, as the overall experience can lead to hyperbole. It happens every year, but we're always left hoping that it isn't the case with one of the pictures that we're most excited about.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympic wrestler, who is truly a force to be reckoned with when coached by his brother, David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo). Mark finds opportunity when he receives a phone call from wealthy sponsor John du Pont (Steve Carell). He decides to join a wrestling team that continues to assemble by the name of "Foxcatcher." This business transaction proves to have immense effects on Mark and David's lives. This is based on the true story.
Before the name du Pont is even mentioned, we're introduced to the dynamic between the Schultz brothers. As Mark gives a lecture at a school and is being paid in the office, he is mistaken for his brother, David. Even with his Olympic medal, he still believes that has has always been living within the shadow of his older brother. Nearly every aspect of David's life at this point seems complete, while Mark is still searching for a way to define himself to the world. This is once again enforced by various sequences of him going home to eat by himself, while David goes back to a loving family. E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman's screenplay make this a consistent theme throughout the picture. The American youth need role models, and he believes that they simply aren't getting them. All of these thoughts and emotions prove to rise to the surface once du Pont is introduced, as manipulation ensues.
From the first time that du Pont is on screen, we're made uncomfortable by this wealthy sponsor. There are numerous red flags that point to this man's instability. Nevertheless, Mark views this contract as his way out of David's shadow. A father-son bond is ultimately formed between the two, as they begin to spend more time together. However, John du Pont is a terrible influence on the wrestler, as his life begins to spiral out of control. Foxcatcher manages to be a captivating and unnerving experience with a slow build. Its restraint is quite powerful, especially within the context of this dynamic relationship between du Pont and Mark. Frye and Futterman treat audiences as intelligent individuals who are able to comprehend the more subtle nuances placed throughout the picture's character relationships with each other and themselves. This is largely a character study, so don't be fooled by the wrestling backdrop. However, not all of the individual characterizations feel entirely realized.
While the final act is supposed to have us at the end of our seats, it doesn't manage to beat the intensity found in a seemingly impossible preparation for a match that could determine everything. This is also withheld through a majority of the wrestling scenes that are included. In a film where we're supposed to be metaphorically getting within the minds of those people, the film certainly feels cold and distanced. With this space comes a lesser amount of tension, as we're slightly removed from the situations. As Foxcatcher continues to play out through the third act, the pacing hits some speed bumps. Just when we're supposed to feel the most tense, viewers are left feeling somewhat underwhelmed after experiencing such an incredibly effective build that provides a finale that isn't nearly as powerful as it wishes to be.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the festival hype around Foxcatcher is the group of performances that are being highlighted here. Channing Tatum is quite effective in the role of Mark Schultz. There is a drastic change in characterization throughout the picture, and Tatum successfully manages to capture that. Mark Ruffalo is also rather strong as David Schultz, who truly manages to make us care about him. He depicts this all-around great guy in a truly convincing manner that has us constantly rooting in his corner. However, this is a transformative performance for Steve Carell. This is a daringly bold performance that works incredibly well. While the screenplay doesn't entirely bring this character's state of mind to life, Carell delivers a chilling portrayal that will make your blood run cold. When Tatum, Ruffalo, and Carell are all interacting, we're entirely convinced of this world.
Director Bennett Miller utilizes incredibly bleak cinematography, which proves to be entirely effective in the context of this feature's tone. The blues and yellows in the "Foxcatcher" uniforms pop off the screen, with everything else lending to the unnerving atmosphere. The framing perfectly captures the intensity, especially throughout the training sequences. As Mark continues to fight to fit the weight requirement, we're introduced to a dizzying and intimate shot that truly puts us in the competitive mindset that the scene evokes. The score simply elevates the picture, as we're further plunged into a feature that takes pleasure out of making us feel uneasy. It's just a shame that the screenplay couldn't be as genuine and intimate as the visuals.
Foxcatcher is one of those films that get a tremendous amount of praise at film festivals, and a lot of people are sure to love it outside of the circuit. However, others are sure to feel that it lacks the fluidity that it needs. One simply cannot ignore the feature's inability to truly get within the minds of the characters, holding us at a distance. Nevertheless, Steve Carell delivers the best performance of his career in this mesmerizingly disturbing portrayal. Channing Tatum is transfixing, even in his moments of silence. Boasting some of the most commanding cinematography of the year thus far, this is a film that captivates with its atmosphere. Foxcatcher is subtle, ominous, and unnerving in its storytelling. Recommended.