A man with staid mommy issues and a fetish for birds should remind anyone of the iconic character of Norman Bates, but Norman Bates isn’t the subject of Academy Award nominated director Bennett Miller’s new film. A grey-haired Steve Carell with a prosthetic nose, that could possibly double for a bird’s beak considering how enormous and obvious it is, is John du Pont, heir to the wealthy du Pont fortune.
John du Pont fancies himself as a patriot who believes that America has lost his way and shortly after the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, he makes contact with Mark Schultz, played by Channing Tatum, and offers him a remarkable opportunity; du Pont requests that Mark and his brother Dave, played by Academy Award nominee Mark Ruffalo, move to the du Pont estate and utilize the new state-of-the-art facility to train American wrestlers to represent the United States at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Mark sees it as a chance to finally step out of his brother’s shadow and accepts the offer, while his brother declines on account of spending time with his family.
The film Foxcatcher sheds light on the circumstances that led to tragedy shortly after the games in Seoul and the relationship between these three figures. Unfortunately, Bennett Miller’s latest film is undoubtedly his weakest to date and I came away very disappointed.
Granted, this film does fulfill its promise regarding Carell and Tatum’s performances, both do give their best acting performances to date, but I simply found the entire movie remarkably overrated on account of the tedious pacing of the action, Greig Fraser’s cinematography was rather banal outside of the still-shots of the Pennsylvania landscape, also there was no-screen cohesion between the lead actors; there is tension between Tatum and Carell because the audience knows that something is going to happen between these two but when it does it doesn’t really come as a surprise. This is a tragedy, so going in it was palpable that someone was going to die, the Foxcatcher incident occurred before my time, so I knew that du Pont was going to do something wrong and it was a movie that you kind of didn’t want to see coming but it did; this was a movie without surprise honestly.
Steve Carell’s transformation into John du Pont is admirable and he clearly demonstrates that he truly went to great lengths in order to emulate du Pont from the look to the actions, du Pont looks like a man who silently struggles to breathe which is ironic because that prosthetic nose is huge, but considering that it is Steve Carell, a veteran comic actor and comedian, I couldn’t take this performance seriously. I’ve been hearing that he is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for this role, but coming out of the screening I thought about how this was a change for his career and he can attempt to try dark roles and different characters, but I didn’t really get on board with the possibility that he could be up for Oscar contention after seeing Foxcatcher; he went to great lengths to be transformative, but the performance was not authentically his.
If there was a word to describe Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz, it would be: ape-like. Watching Tatum in this movie was like watching a gorilla doing whatever it is a gorilla does on television; eating, moving, wrestling, speaking, even when Carell’s character slaps him midway through the film and calls him an ungrateful ape, that is practically and precisely how to describe Channing Tatum in this movie. I’m not saying that he doesn’t do a decent turn with this performance, he does physically do the things required of him to make the character he is playing genuine, but it is as if he simply scratches the surface.
If any of the actors in this movie are remotely likeable it is perhaps Vanessa Redgrave as Jean du Pont, John’s disappointing and disapproving mother and Ruffalo as Dave comes in as a close second. Redgrave has less than maybe 10 minutes of screentime and she makes the most of what she does; her character has no taste for wrestling, neither do I, she finds her stable of horses more worthy of her attention than her son’s “accomplishments,” she is the sole legitimate figure who can properly pull her weight in this movie. Ruffalo is the family man, who is easy to root for and he does to Tatum, what Dave unintentionally did to Mark: overshadowed him to an endless extent.
Screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman have written a dry and shallow screenplay that doesn’t really give audiences a chance to glean about what really drives these characters; it simply scratches the surface of who is who and goes by the book about what has led up to the ensuing tragic event.
Personally, I was really anticipating Foxcatcher to be the darkest film released to date this year and instead I just got a lot of grey area. Maybe I just expected better from director Bennett Miller, considering his last two films were rather impressive, but Foxcatcher just fell short on so many of my expectations that I simply didn’t care for it.