Foxcatcher English Movie Review

Feature Film | Biopic, Drama, Sports
The film manages to start off strong, but never manages to create those defining moments that make ordinary films great. A career-changing performance by Steve Carell is squandered away by some measured filmmaking by director Bennett Miller.
Jan 30, 2015 By Piyush Chopra

Foxcatcher opens with Olympic gold-medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) speaking at an elementary school for a meager $20, which is followed by him going through the motions of his everyday life, eating alone, watching TV alone, practicing his wrestling moves alone, followed by wrestling practice with his Olympic gold-medalist elder brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo).

As the two brothers wrestle, friendly at first and then more aggressively at the instigation of Mark, you become aware of Mark's sense of insecurity, his feeling overshadowed by his well-liked and well-intentioned brother. In these moments, the film makes an extremely strong start, showing you what the rest of the film is going to be like: sober, somber and intense with a melancholic tone.

Director Bennett Miller's follow-up to the acclaimed Capote and Moneyball is an odd film, in the sense that despite the presence of all kinds of talent, the film never manages to completely exploit all the potential for drama that lies beneath the surface of this true story of two brothers and a murderous psychopath. It keeps you waiting and waiting for THAT defining moment to come, the moment that defines every great film and completely turns the narrative around. But with Foxcather, that moment never comes.

This aforementioned psychopath is John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), a billionaire (millionaire?) philanthropist and wrestling enthusiast, who enlists Mark to join his team Team Foxcatcher and train with him for the World Championships. The character of du Pont is simultaneously the film's biggest achievement and its worst failure.

With the right makeup, prosthetics, camera angles and some supreme acting, the film manages to make du Pont appear like the most ordinary person and the most disturbing person in the world all at the same time. He manages to look creepy even when he's just silently blinking his eyes. He's the kind of guy who makes you feel like taking a bath after just being in the same room with him.

But where the film looses out is exploring the psychology of du Pont and what drove the man to commit one of the most notorious murders in sporting history. We're barely able to scratch the surface of the character that was du Pont, also know as the "Golden Eagle". By the end of the film, the only relationship of his that we have any level of understanding of is the one he shared with his mother, where he had the tendency to try to prove himself worthy of her approval.

Also surprising are the time leaps that the film employs, with the final jump in time spanning years. Important storylines and characters are completely obliterated from the film, giving an incomplete picture of the real events. Even the critical moments that director Miller and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman choose to film are sometimes glossed over.

But in between all the inconsistencies and omissions, the film manages to keep you involved somehow or the other. Mark's descent into insecurity, taking up cocaine use on du Pont's beckoning, his spiraling during the Olympics tryouts and his binge-eating are some of the smaller details and emotions that are captured extremely well by Bennett Miller. The same goes for the big finale, which is shot in a very understated manner, magnifying its impact.

The cinematography by Greig Fraser is commendable, whether it's in capturing the snow-capped mansion of du Pont or, more importantly, during the wrestling scenes. Even though wrestling itself isn't at the front and center during the film, the few short sequences that do feature in the film appear as authentic as you could possibly expect them to be. The musical score by Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson is minimalistic, which is exactly what the film required. The film could've definitely used crisper editing, though.

The one area where the film shines bright and sunny is the performances. Tatum turns in an uncharacteristically restrained performance as Mark Schultz, the film's main protagonist. Sure, it may not be career-changing performance for the guy, like Dallas Buyers Club was for Matthew McConaughey, but he never sticks out like a sore thumb. Plus, his athleticism and beefy build make him a great choice for the role.

Mark Ruffalo is his usual reliable self as Dave, giving it his all. Both him and Tatum are never less than convincing as wrestlers, and more importantly, brothers. Ruffalo gets a role that is suited to his personality, as the gentle and helpful soul, and gives a watchable performance.

But the film is lead with pride by Steve Carell as John du Pont, a performance that should help him break out from his mold of comedy films. As the deranged, jealous, drug-addled ornithologist, Carell gives a stunningly creepy performance, the kind that should chill you to your bones. Apart from his prosthetically-altered appearance, he even subtly modifies his gait, stance and posture to maximize the unnerving effect that his character has on people surrounding him. It might not win him an Oscar at the end of the day, but it should win him plenty of applause from cinegoers worldwide.

When you're walking out of the theater, you cannot help but feel that Bennett Miller (an otherwise superlative talent) seems to have missed a trick or two with Foxcatcher. He has a keen eye for capturing the smaller moments, interactions and showdowns between characters, but he loses sight of the big picture in this case. A better treatment of this thrilling true story could've morphed the film into one for the ages.

Instead, you're left feeling incomplete, like you're missing out on some pieces of the puzzle that was the mind of John E. du Pont. Mark Schultz recently criticized the film and Miller for completely making up the personalities of all the characters in the film. What he really should've been mad about is a perfect opportunity for creating an epic sports murder-drama squandered away by some measured filmmaking.

Piyush Chopra