Foxcatcher tries to use great acting to hide a weak movie
‘Foxcatcher’ deserves the accolades it’s getting for the acting, but the movie is ultimately quite disappointing.
Biopics, my old foe. Why do you always try to hurt me like this? I want to like you, I want to know more about the interesting people of history. But then you go and make me all … yawn.
It is funny how envy works. A person can seemingly have a great life but be envious of one particular thing about someone else. Maybe it’s their job, or their family, or their face, or even their personality. Looking in from the outside, you may never understand it. Of course, an exception must be made for the mentally disturbed, because their behavior is not understable except by the mental health professionals, and perhaps not even them. I’m going somewhere with this, trust me.
Foxcatcher is based on a true story, where down on his luck Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is asked by the odd but obscenely wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) to lead a team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Mark is certainly talented, but he wasn’t doing well despite his gold medal win; all he really had was the support of his kind but older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo — it’s a bit confusing, but Mark doesn’t play Mark here). Dave basically raised Mark and is a Gold Medalist himself, and is doing very well in life, getting great job offers and has a loving wife and kids. So Mark is craving to make something of himself, to be his own man and win the championship again, to prove he wasn’t just a flash in the pan. But John du Pont is a very odd person, obsessive and mercurial, supportive at times, creepy at others, and legitimately abusive still others. It’s clear that John suffers from dealing with his overbearing mother (Vanessa Redgrave), who hates the sport of wrestling and thinks of it as a “common” sport.
Eventually John invites Mark to a new facility at his Foxcatcher estate, hoping both to be a father figure to Mark and be a successful wrestler himself, if only for the older set. But Mark can’t hope to live up to John’s lofty, unfair expectations and John soon pays Dave an exorbitant amount of money to take over the training. Although Dave tries to be supportive to Mark, it’s not that simple. Jealousy abounds, but it’s not just Mark. John is also jealous, crazily so, of Mark, of Dave, of everyone else despite his wealth. Covered with prosthetics and utilizing some weird physical tics, Steve Carell is indeed excellent as this creepy guy, really making some uncomfortable scenes truly hard to watch. It’s an uncomfortable movie to watch, but then it gets dull and boring.
I had a real problem with the pacing on this one. This movie is over two hours long, but it feels much longer — some scenes went on forever and didn’t seem to add anything important. It seemed like there was just yet another crazy, odd thing John du Pont was doing, and eventually it lost impact. I stopped emotionally connecting with John and even with Mark. Channing Tatum is also really great here, not really having a lot of range in the character, but showing off a hidden rage and fury without the capability to communicate it. He had this very engaging physical way of acting, moving in an animalistic, hardened way that connected with me when the weaker script and dull direction did not.
But oddly enough, I was most impressed with Mark Ruffalo, because from the very start of the movie to the end, he made every scene he was in so much better. He didn’t say much, but his character was filled with decency and inner strength, if not the ability to talk eloquently. Makeup on Steve Carell doesn’t particularly impress me, I knew he was capable of dark characters since last year’s The Way, Way Back. And ever since 21 Jump Street, I’ve known Channing Tatum could be a good actor. Of course, Mark Ruffalo’s always been great. I remember his cop character from the excellent Collateral and his minor role in the really great Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. He was pretty great in The Avengers too. But this particular performance impressed me, because it wasn’t showy or obvious. Just engaging and deep.
In the end, I guess the movie’s okay, but really, if the strength of the acting weren’t here, I would say the movie was actually not good at all. It’s hard to have good movies based on real life events, because real life isn’t a fictional story. But keep those Oscar pools ready to go, because Steve Carell is a lock! His makeup job too.