Monday, November 24, 2014

"Foxcatcher" Review - Written by Jim Herling

The role of John du Pont that Steve Carrell plays in the new movie Foxcatcher is one of those "departure" roles comedians play from time to time that are really special to watch. It's the kind of thing that gets someone some Oscar buzz. I mention that up front in the interest of not burying the lead, because with the exception of some truly fantastic acting, Foxcatcher (directed by Bennett Miller, screenplay written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman based on the book written by Mark Schultz) is a pretty boring movie.

Carrell is buried under makeup for the role, a pronounced nose and other things applied to make him closely resemble the wealthy, wrestling aficionado-turned-murderer he plays here. With the exception of one scene where he's under the influence of cocaine, all traces of the lovable comedian we know are gone, replaced by something truly creepy. From the minute he spoke his first line, I was freaked out by him. Part of that is because of how good Carrell's performance is. Part of it is how good the makeup is. The last part of it is how good of a cast he has to play against : Channing Tatum (who also sports some makeup work to make him look like an Olympic wrestler done by a makeup team that deserves their own awards attention) carries the lion's share of that burden as Mark Schultz, the gold medal winner who is taken in by du Pont. Despite the tough guy he's playing, there's a vulnerability to Tatum's performance that is impressive, and it creates a wonderful dynamic with Carrell. Also on board is Mark Ruffalo as Schultz's older brother Dave, himself a gold medal-winning Olympian wrestler; unfortunately there's no makeup work on him, just a beard. The cast is rounded out by Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, and Sienna Miller in small but strong roles.

Despite the great performances, Foxcatcher (which claims to be based on a true story but, with the exception of the ending, almost none of the events are supported by facts) is really just a unsatisfying film. Part of that is due to the movie's nebulous relationship with time; except for the dates involving the wrestling competitions, time goes completely unmarked. The final scenes, which occurred a good seven years apart in reality seem like they were separated by the span of a week. Only the falling snow marks any kind of difference. The other problem with the screenplay is that it leaves a lot of the emotional beats either up for interpretation or skips them completely in favor of just showing fallout. I realize that's a style and some folks might appreciate it but for me it seriously detracted and, despite the really great acting, earned Foxcatcher just 2.5 stars out of 5.

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