Foxcatcher review: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum are brilliant, but the film isn't as good as DuPont's real story
When you realize DuPont’s Wiki page is actually more thrilling than the movie based on him, you’ll know something went deeply wrong in the conference room of Foxcatcher’s creative team.
Acclaimed director Bennett Miller’s new film Foxcatcher has got a bunch of Oscar nominations and has been praised for its powerhouse acting and chilling atmosphere. All of those things are true, except the acclaim is a notch higher than it deserves. Foxcatcher is indeed unsettling, but never menacing. The performance from Steve Carell as John DuPont is truly terrific, but a lot of it has also to do with his makeup. Foxcatcher deserves all the awards it’s being nominated for, but DuPont deserved a much bigger film.
The film chronicles the real life story of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an Olympic gold medal winning wrestler who travels from his downtrodden life in a tiny town to the infamous Foxcatcher camp in Pennsylvania. Schultz is sponsored by DuPont, who displays sociopathic behavior, but is wealthy and patriotic enough to form a wrestling team that can bring home a few Olympic medals. As Schultz’s life changes and money starts flowing, a bizarre passive aggressive power game ensues between him and DuPont. Things get nasty when Schultz’s elder brother (Mark Ruffalo) is called upon by DuPont to replace him.
So far so good, the film is very tight and the chemistry between DuPont and Schultz is truly creepy. DuPont’s erratic nature is spine tingling at the very least - you’re never sure what he’s thinking and you’re worried about what he will do next. He speaks in this bizarre, staccato tone that seems to suggest a variety of thoughts struggling to gel together. His dead glassy eyes only add to the tension, and full marks to Carell for rendering such a subtle, bone chilling performance.
The problem is, Foxcatcher does everything right, until the film ends. Like George Clooney’s The Ides of March, the film ends just when something interesting happens. It feels like a two and a half hour buildup to something incredible, but when that incredible thing does happen, the film leaves abruptly, making you mildly despise it. Frustratingly, the real life events following the big climax of the film are even more dramatic and sensational, but Miller doesn’t let us see them. The real life DuPont got embroiled in a court case that could itself be a standalone movie, yet Foxcatcher doesn’t even want to try – it just shuts down without any prior warning.
Nor does the film dig deep enough into the psyche of DuPont. We’re never told what DuPont was all about. The man still remains one of the strangest case studies in criminal history, he had a rich background full of childhood abandonment, violence and drug abuse, and yet Miller doesn’t get into any of those details. Why did DuPont do the things that he did? Why was there a love hate relationship between Schultz and DuPont? Was he just a rich, spoiled brat or were there deeper psychological issues at play? There is a small attempt at addressing DuPont’s mommy issues and one scene where he’s pretending to train the wrestlers in front of his mom is great, but it’s all standard issue Hollywood style mommy issues.
On the other side is Schultz, who is even less easy to understand. The film does trust its audience to be smart enough to figure out the problems between Schultz and DuPont. However, the sheer lack of detailing on DuPont’s past makes it hard to connect with Schultz’s reactions on being punished. The film also establishes the predictable plot details of drug use and Schult’z reduction in performance after being addicted. There is, however, a terrific sequence where Schultz gives up mid match, loses himself in alcohol backstage, and his brother brutally purges the alcohol and drains the devil out of him.
Perhaps one film was just not enough to properly cover DuPont’s crazy life. If you simply Google DuPont you’ll end up spending a good part of your day knowing more and more crazy things about him. When you realize DuPont’s Wiki page is actually more thrilling than the movie based on him, you’ll know something went deeply wrong in the conference room of Foxcatcher’s creative team. This is half a movie, and a very good one too, if only it dared to take an extra step ahead. Let’s just call it the American Hustle of this year.
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