Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”)
Written by: Dan Futterman (“Capote”) and E. Max Frye (“Where the Money Is”)
When the buzz-worthy true story film “Foxcatcher” was pushed from its December 20, 2013 release date citing the film not yet being completed, you couldn’t blame film fans for being a little concerned. Normally when a film’s release date gets pushed back, (see “The Great Gatsby” being pushed from December to May) it could be the sign that a movie isn’t quite as good as believed and has fallen out of awards contention. But in an act of faith and belief in the films merits, Sony Pictures Classics shelved the film nearly an entire year to have it ready to compete for the 2014 awards season. It’s too bad “Foxcatcher” falls short of being worth the wait.
Seeing a way to escape out from under his brother Dave’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow, Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) accepts an invitation to train at the estate of billionaire heir John du Pont (Steve Carell). As the training facility at Foxcatcher Farm grows, so does the ego of du Pont as he insists on being heavily involved in the training and referred to as “coach.” As the pressure mounts, du Pont’s behavior spirals out of control, the relationship between him and Schultz becomes strained and Schultz must fight to keep himself and his career together.
When the first promotional materials came out for the film, displaying the comedic actor Carell wearing facial prosthetics, breathing heavily and speaking with an odd tone, it was clear that this was a character meant to be chilling and dark. This is exactly what is brought forth in the film, albeit with a striking lack of nuance. Even though certain elements of Carell’s performance can certainly be unsettling, it can’t help but feel a little one-note. It may be that the prosthetics were so obvious, but the performance also felt distracting and unfortunately, Carell never fully disappears into the role. Tatum, on the other hand, is extremely underused. Spending most of the film sulking, he rarely gets the chance to do anything beyond subtle character work and the occasional hulking out scene.
In this case, the faults of the films characterization should not be placed entirely on the actors. One of the biggest flaws of the film is that its screenplay provides so few arcs for its two lead characters. In Carell’s case, there’s almost no arc and with Tatum, the character turns are so quick and jolting, often changing from scene to scene. Ruffalo, who plays Mark’s brother Dave is given the most to do character-wise and it is no coincidence that he gives the best performance of the film.
“Foxcatcher” is a film that is somber, moody and unquestionably dark, yet it is slow moving to the point of feeling labored, cold, and quite often subdued to a fault. It is beautifully shot and there are without question scenes that display the kind of talent that Miller has as a director. Still, the event that the entire movie is clearly building towards often lacks the necessary tension and never quite seems worth the journey. There are some themes like sibling rivalry and the quest to be lauded that are at play here, but for such a rich and interesting story, “Foxcatcher” is all mood and atmosphere and not much else.