Foxcatcher (review)

Let me get this out of the way: Foxcatcher is a very good film. The performances are outstanding, as are many elements of the movie, but it left me a bit cold. Maybe this was what director Bennett Miller was going for, since most of the film takes place in the autumn and winter. Or maybe it’s because the story contains one of the least charismatic villains in history.

The screenplay by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman compresses the actual timeline quite a bit. I understand that this wasa done for dramatic purposes, but was it really necessary? Yes, yes it was. To film the story using the actual timeline would possibly leave the audience members who are unfamiliar with the story with far more questions than answers. As it is, there are a number of questions left unanswered, but I won’t divulge what they are in this post.

Foxcatcher begins with Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) speaking to a group of young children about winning a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics. When he goes to collect his speaking fee, (twenty dollars!) the school secretary stroking the check asks, “Is it Dave or David?” Mark replies, “It’s Mark. Dave’s my brother.” That moment sums up the leitmotif of Mark’s life thus far, and the film in general.

Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) is also a gold medalist in wrestling. Dave, being the older brother, pretty much raised Mark after their parents got divorced. Mark, who always sees himself in Dave’s shadow, thinks he may have found his way out when he meets “wrestling coach” John E. du Pont (Steve Carell).

John du Pont saw himself as an inspirational figure and a leader of men; but he was sadly mistaken. He wasn’t a tragic figure, but his actions did lead to tragedy. This was not a villainous role that Carell could sink his teeth into–it was far more insular and internal–and those less showy parts don’t always go over well during “award season,” but maybe they should. In the future, at least.

Much was made of the prosthetics that Carell wore in Foxcatcher, and how some thought him unrecognizable, but he was not the only one who underwent a transformation. Tatum also wore facial prosthetics, while Ruffalo grew a beard, and was made to look like he was slightly balding. Sienna Miller, who played Dave’s wife, Nancy, deglammed for the part. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just that some folks bring it up as if it’s a big deal of something, which it isn’t.

One of the films I esteem as a masterclass in ensemble acting is Glengarry Glen Ross, and now I will add Foxcatcher to the list. Foxcatcher is one of the most sublimely subtle American films I can think of. Director Miller was unafraid to let his actors be alone, or to have them take their time when speaking to one another. The scenes with Carell and Tatum are filled with long pauses, yet I was never bored. So much can be said in the subtext of silence.

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