Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Foxcatcher


Directed by Bennett Miller.
2014. Rated R, 134 minutes.
Cast:
Steve Carell
Channing Tatum
Mark Ruffalo
Vanessa Redgrave
Sienna Miller
Anthony Michael Hall
Guy Boyd
Brett Rice
Samara Lee
Jackson Frazer

Mark Schultz (Tatum) won a gold medal in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics. He is having trouble making ends meet, but still trains every day with his brother Dave (Ruffalo), also an Olympic gold medalist, for the '88 games. Out of nowhere, Mark gets a call from John du Pont (Carell), an extremely wealthy man who flies Mark out to the luxurious du Pont estate which includes an immaculate training facility. Mr. du Pont is more than just a wrestling aficianado. He wants to help the US team achieve as much success as possible. He offers Mark a job and residency on estate grounds, free of charge. The job is to train and train with other wrestlers hopeful of making the team at least until the Olympics roll around again in two years. Mark happily accepts. And off he goes on what turns out to be a rather bizarre journey. Based on a true story.

Like many other movies, the success of Foxcatcher hinges on its villain. It gives us an excellent one. John du Pont is a man who has come into his fortune by way of birth. Not surprisingly, we find out that even though he's a middle-aged man, he's still a spoiled brat. We recognize right away that he is used to getting his way simply because he has money. It seems he is fairly unfamiliar with the word 'no.' And he's still trying to impress his mother Jean (Redgrave). Also unsurprisingly, he has an out-of-control ego and desperately desires to be seen as a great man. To this end, he uses philanthropic means. an easy way to earn praise is by throwing money around. He does this with ease, earning kind words from people all over. He even funds his own documentary to show how wonderful a benefactor he is to the US wrestling team. While things like this are off-putting, it's something else that makes us really dislike him. He's a bully. As far as he's concerned, something going against his wishes for any reason is not an option. He's going to get his way come hell or high water. Fully inhabiting the role is Steve Carell. It's a turn reminiscent of Robin Williams in that Carell's a normally comedic actor finding his dramatic footing playing a deeply troubled and morose individual. Carell completely exits his comfort zone and gives himself over to the character. The result is a career-best performance.


Though set up as the good guy, Mark is not the hero of this affair. That would be his brother Dave, played excellently by Mark Ruffalo. He is a thoroughly good guy, a true family man, always looking out for his little brother. No matter the situation, he is more than willing to do the right thing, even if it means riding in to save the day. This leads us back to Mark and the role he fulfills. Thanks to a mid-movie falling out with du Pont, Mark becomes our damsel distress. He comes to hate his situation, yet cannot extricate himself from it. Early, Mark is shown as not very bright, or perceptive. As things go downhill, he becomes appropriately sullen and standoffish. It's a great turn by Tatum who has really stepped up his game over the last tow or three years.

The disposition of Tatum's character during the second half of the film gives us what feels like a missed opportunity, though. As the two men grow close during the early parts of Foxcatcher, their relationship has some serious homoerotic undertones. While watching things transpire, a sexual encounter of some sort is expected. At the very least, it seems that one, probably du Pont, would declare a physical attraction to the other. When the falling out happens between them, Mark's behavior can't help but be seen similar to that of scorned lover. It's obvious enough and plays out in a fairly public manner so I was shocked not one of the other characters speculated on the possibility of there being more to their relationship. Not having read anything about this story before sitting down to watch this movie, I have no idea if there was a romantic link between the two, or not. If there wasn't that's fine, but the way things unfold here, it's fair to say it's something people would be talking about. More than likely, it's a subject Dave would bring up with his brother when trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with him. If becomes a question I need answered whether it is in the affirmative or the negative. Even if the thought of Mark and du Pont being more than platonic friends subsides, it comes rushing back to mind when we reach our grand finale. We only get a couple of epitaphs and the credits roll. We even realize that it's an excellent movie filled with compelling characters that pull us into their world. However, it feels like we put together 499 pieces of a 500-piece puzzle. And the box is empty.

17 comments:

  1. Interesting read once again Dell. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though I didn't see any of the sexual stuff that you (and others) have written about. Perhaps it is because I have done wrestling and jiu jitsu many times, but I didn't catch anything like you describe. You've made me wanna watch this again!!

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    1. Thanks. The sexual stuff I picked up on had nothing to do with the sport. It was about how they interacted with and reacted to one another. I don't know if there was or not, but the way it's presented I'm certain someone would have at least raised the question.

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  2. Brilliant review! I struggled with this one. Steve Carrell was simply brilliant, and terrifying, but I really felt every minute of that run time. There was one scene in particular that made Jenna and I question a sexual relationship, but you're right, it wasn't explored any further.
    - Allie

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    1. Thanks! It felt like it went by pretty quickly to me. Hate that it felt slow to you.

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    2. I'm totally with Allie here, as much as I enjoyed it....this f--ker dragged by the end.

      On another note, I'm with you on the sexual stuff. Apparently it didn't happen AT ALL, but I think the director wanted us to believe that it did. Sure, it was a bit vague, but as the dynamic of their relationship changed, that late-night practice damn near SCREAMED sexual encounter...even if that's not what happened.

      Let me tell you, Dell...I absolutely loved the last two lines of this review. I'm totally going to pass that off as my own in class tomorrow. It's going to be great.

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    3. See, that's what I'm saying! The director definitely made it out to be possibly something more than two guys who were friends. And you have my permission to use those lines...and pass them off as your own.

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  3. Mark Schultz lost his shit when people started writing that the film portrayed sexual undertones, because he's adamant there was nothing sexual between them. I look at it more as two men who are trying to latch onto each other in an attempt to belong somewhere.

    And I hated Carell. I thought he was awful.

    Nice review, though!

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    1. Didn't know that about Schultz. I'll take him at his word if he says there was nothing sexual, but the movie sure hints that there might have been.

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  4. I didn't catch the sexual undertones personally, and I was looking for them after Mark Schultz lost his shit all over Twitter. I just didn't see it. This film was excellent though. A slow burn, but great performance. Nice write up!

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    1. Wish I had seen Schultz's blow up. And I wrote this review before I read anyone else's. Comforts me to know I'm not the only one who picked up on this. It was a slow burn, but a damn good one.

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  5. I thought this was a great film although I view the Mark Schultz and John du Pont relationship as a father/son thing of sorts as John du Pont would use Mark to establish his own legacy and Mark would use John to get out of the shadow of his own brother. Instead, things don't work out that way. It is a very interesting film. My sister though was very dismissive of it. Then again, she's been very dismissive about a lot of the films I had seen.

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    1. I can see that angle. For sure du Pont was using Mark that way. My wife is dismissive of lots of the movies I like, too, lol.

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  6. Great review! I really liked this movie, and I thought Carell was wonderful in it. I did pick up on a slight sexual vibe, but I took it more as a story about two men tied to each other by their need to achieve a sense of importance.

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    1. Thanks. I do think that's what the story is about, not about the sexual aspect. Just wanted to note that it was present.

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  7. I was really looking forward to this one, the actual events unfolded practically at my front door at the time, about twenty minutes away and like everyone in the region I followed the unfolding events avidly. So I was somewhat disappointed that I didn't love the film especially since I had so enjoyed Miller's other two films, Moneyball and Capote. I liked it but its chilly deliberate tone kept me from being fully engaged by the movie. I thought Carell did an alright job but I was never bowled over by him. Ruffalo was customarily excellent but I thought Tatum was best in show and my beloved Vanessa Redgrave wasted, though she did what she could with her small role.

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    1. Redgrave was absolutely wasted. Would love to have seen her character's relationship with her son more fleshed out. I really liked Carell's performance, quite possibly because it was so different from what I usually get from him. I think the "chilly, deliberate tone" was trying to emulate du Pont and succeeded very well, I thought. Therefore, I didn't mind that, one bit.

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