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« Beauty vs Beast: The First Scream Cuts The Deepest | Main | Viola Davis, Vanquisher of the Unspeakable »
Monday
Oct132014

NYFF: A Second Look At Foxcatcher

The NYFF concluded last night but we've got a couple more pieces for you. Nathaniel reviewed Foxcatcher briefly at TIFF and here's Michael's much more positive take on it...

If it’s true that great storytelling unfolds in a way that is both surprising and inevitable, then Bennet Miller’s Foxcatcher appears at first glance to be missing half of the equation. The most surprising thing about the spare script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman is how shocking it isn’t. We can see the impending tragedy coming from miles away. Only the film’s characters seem blind to the descending shadows. Tremendous piles of money have a way of obscuring vision like that.

Based on the real events leading up to a 1996 murder, Foxcatcher’s first images show the incredibly rich at play with their pets, sitting atop thoroughbred horses, surrounded by hunting dogs, etc. It’s appropriate for a film about the unfathomably wealthy John du Pont’s attempts to keep champion wrestlers Mark and David Schultz as his own personal possessions. 

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) doesn’t require much convincing to take du Pont up on his offer...

Years of living in the shadow of his gregarious and successful older brother David (Mark Ruffalo) have left Mark a coiled mass of internalized anger. His status as an Olympic champion is all but meaningless without the money to back it up. He spends his days giving stilted speeches about patriotism to bored school children, and eating ramen alone in his squalid apartment. When a mysterious benefactor comes calling with talk of paying Mark to lead Team USA to glory, he leaps at the chance to break out on his own. All he has to do is pretend not to notice du Pont’s eccentricities, which seems simple, but grows increasingly difficult as du Pont’s warped and poisonous mentality spills out. When du Pont spends the dough to pull David into his orbit the tangle of ambition, jealousy and bitterness reaches toxic levels.

The word has been out for a while that Channing Tatum is much more than the vapid slab of beefcake he first appeared to be when he arrived on the scene in stuff like GI Joe and Step Up, but this performance puts the actor in another league altogether. Tatum channels Mark's complexities into his mesmerizing physicality, all brute animal force and lightning reflexes which crumple at every opportunity into a dejected heap of defeat. He makes Mark into a fearsome specimen who nevertheless exudes pure vulnerability. If another reviewer wanted to draw a comparison to DeNiro in Raging Bull, I wouldn’t laugh them out of the room. 

As du Pont, Carell’s role is both the flashiest and the most thankless. His transformation from lovable movie star to creepy, socially maladjusted weirdo with Mr. Burns posture seems like the stuff of Oscar bait, but du Pont is not the fun villain for which Oscar usually falls. Carell keeps the character stubbornly distant and alienating, a force of needy, unstable insanity. It’s not an audience-friendly performance, but it is the performance Foxcatcher needs. Du Pont should be a time bomb hiding in plain sight, one that everyone chooses to ignore because he’s signing the checks. Foxcatcher even finds a streak of macabre comedy amid the bleakness in the extent to which people go not to puncture du Pont’s delusions – such as not questioning his decision to take up wrestling in his early fifties. 


David Schultz, the most well-adjusted point of this film’s triangle, isn’t the same type of showcase but Ruffalo is every bit as good as his costars. He walks off with the movie's best scene (and probably an Oscar nod) for a moment in which he runs up against the limit of what he is willing to say to the man with the money.

Foxcatcher plays like a Ghost story in which the characters have not yet died. Greig Fraser’s icy cinematography seeps into the viewer’s bones and finds imagery that speak for its inarticulate, emotionally closed off leads, be it du Pont sitting in slack-jawed gloom in a room full of trophies, or the entwined violence and intimacy of brothers wrestling. Foxcatcher isn't the most viscerally satisfying film, it will surely leave some audiences cold, but it is a tough film to shake. The next time I think of the corroding power of unchecked privilege, it will be du Pont’s unsettling grey smile that comes to mind. A-/B+

Foxcatcher opens November 14th from Sony Pictures Classics 

 

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Reader Comments (2)

Love this review. love it. it's making me rethink my indifference.

October 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Excellent review.

October 13, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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