Director: Bennett Miller
A great director, award-winning writers, a fascinating true crime story and an interesting cast – what could go wrong? Unfortunately in the case of director Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, a lot.
Foxcatcher chronicles the true story of John Du Pont (played by Steve Carell), heir to the vast Du Pont family fortune, who wants to use his residence, Foxcatcher Farms as the premier training facility for the USA wrestling team. In an effort to get “Team Foxcatcher” off the ground, Du Pont first hires Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), then his brother and coach Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), both gold-medal winning Olympic wrestlers to coach the team and compete in high-profile competitions to advertise the “Team Foxcatcher” name. Unfortunately, Du Pont’s crippling sociopathy and other various mental health issues cause events to spiral out of control before finally coming to a deadly end.
I had read extensively about this bizarre story over the past several years, and with Bennett Miller at the helm, I was really excited to see Foxcatcher. And yes, it is paced slowly and methodically like a Bennett Miller film (see also: Moneyball and Capote). It even looked like a Bennett Miller film somehow, despite the fact that he doesn’t use the same cinematographer on his each of his films. But unfortunately the only other thing in common Foxcatcher has with his previous feature films (that I loved by the way) is that they all have one word titles.
Foxcatcher is a slow-burn film that doesn’t ever ignite or explode, and that is super disappointing since for the first two hours of the film, you tell yourself that the agonizingly slow pace and disjointed progression from scene to scene is going to pay off in a big way, right? Wrong. Unfortunately, it’s just boring. In conversation post-film I even gave Miller the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps this was a really bad adaptation of a complicated novel; but upon doing a quick IMDB search, I was shocked to discover this was an original screenplay, so there was really no excuse (and even more dismayed when I saw the company it holds with other Oscar-nominees this year – really, it’s compared in greatness to Birdman or The Grand Budapest Hotel?!).
Not only is Foxcatcher incredibly unfocused and criminally incomplete in terms of character development (no, “slow, methodical pacing” does not automatically build a character study) but it is jarringly vague when it comes to plot development as well. When the climax of the film happens, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and I was left more confused than anything. And then irritated, since the story should have been a slam dunk based on the intriguing source material.
One of the big stories about Foxcatcher is the acting, and I’m not going to say that any of the acting was bad – in fact it was pretty good. But…not as deserving of all of the accolades the two Oscar-nominated actors have received. Steve Carell was decent as John Du Pont, though I couldn’t help but compare this performance with possibly his best known role as hapless Michael Scott in The Office simply because they were both pretty awkward. Actually, come to think of it, Carell as John Du Pont was actually more like Ricky Gervais in the original British version of The Office: a lot more painful to watch. I’ve seen Carell do drama so much better (he was amazing in Little Miss Sunshine) and while he was decent in his role, there was nothing transcendent about it. In fact, a lot of his performance involved talking down his prosthetic nose with his chin up, and walking around in very upsetting little gym shorts.
Mark Ruffalo is also being lauded for his performance, and though he is practically recognizable with his added bulk and grizzly man beard, it all came down to him just being… Mark Ruffalo. I’m not sure what it is about him – his voice, his mannerisms? – but he’s always Mark Ruffalo in his movies. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, I happen to like Mark Ruffalo. I was kind of surprised by his Oscar nomination, but he actually has a pretty great scene in Foxcatcher where he’s being asked by a documentary filmmaker (hired by Du Pont, of course) to talk about how Du Pont is a mentor to him. Watching him struggle with this, and then even blowing his lines when they are fed to him was a pretty great scene. If there was any surprise I received from watching Foxcatcher beyond its mediocrity, it was the intensity of Channing Tatum’s performance. I’ve probably seen a movie he’s been in, but if I have, I can’t recall it, I just know he’s a popular actor. But based on what I know he’s been in, I didn’t have high hopes yet he was actually pretty good in his role as the underappreciated and insecure Mark Schultz.
Unfortunately as a whole, Foxcatcher was a big disappointment for me, and I’m pretty flummoxed by all of the raves and award nominations. I’m a sucker for quiet, slow paced and deliberate films so there’s no reason I should have disliked it, yet here we are. I guess I put a little more stock in execution and expect more of a coherent story to be entertained.