Foxcatcher is a biographical drama that follows a decade in the life of Olympic amateur wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum). When his equally successful brother Dave (Ruffalo) initially turns down the opportunity, Mark is recruited by amateur sports enthusiast John E. du Pont (Carell), to help train the US national side. Instead of being a catalyst for sustained sporting glory, it instead became the beginning of something wholly more tragic.
Critically, Foxcatcher has been pretty darn successful. Just taking the Academy Awards as a starting point, it has garnered five nominations – Best Director, Actor, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay and Makeup/Hair Styling. It has also received relatively broad positive reviews across most mediums, exemplified by its 88% critical and 72% audience approval ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. The usually stingy Guardian even gave it a maximum score.
Why am I bringing this up? Because three great performances somehow elevate a poorly paced middling film into an instant classic – or so the critics would have you believe.
Let’s not misunderstand the sentiment here – this is not a bad film. However, it does stack the deck against itself throughout, leading it to being a difficult watch (and not necessarily for the right reasons). Despite some very occasional levity (the speech rehearsal during the helicopter journey is genuinely funny), too much of the film is bogged down with shots that linger a little too longer on the targets, as well as long, drawn out scenes that don’t really enhance the storytelling. Combine all this with a hit-and-miss script, and and a dearth of actual key scenes and it all adds up to a film that outstays its welcome by a good 30 to 45 minutes. Some films excel at telling stories where there is little plot (There Will Be Blood and, to a lesser extent Syriana), but unfortunately Foxcatcher lacks the panache to pull it off, occasionally leaving the viewer, frankly, a little bored.
Despite the above, all is not that bad. In fact, the three principal actors put in stellar shifts that result in standout performances.
Carell excels as the eccentric du Pont, a man obsessed with amateur sports and used to getting what we wants. For a man renowned for zany comedy antics, it is refreshingly restrained delivery from the funny guy, and hopefully this will lead to more prominent straight man roles for him down the line.
We already knew that Mark Ruffalo is a fine actor, and his nuanced performance here goes a long way to cementing that belief. He really does inhabit the role of David, even changing his posture, stance and gait to conform. It’s subtle, but brilliantly done.
Channing Tatum comfortably gives the performance of his career to date (something we’ve been waiting since 2006’s A Guide to Recognising Your Saints to be able to say). In a role that demands little in the way of speech, but is heavy on emotion and physicality, Tatum really throws himself into it. One of Foxcatcher’s highlights (if you can call it that) is a particularly low scene for Mark, where he flips out in a hotel room after being surprisingly defeated early in a tournament. It is a montage of rage and depression, and is brilliantly handled.
Frustratingly, the trios most memorable moments are swamped in a feature fractured by poor editing and run-of-the-mill direction that misses as often as it hits.
This could have been an excellent film. The true life drama that inspired the both Mark Schultz’s memoir and this Bennett Miller movie is both intriguing and tragic. It also just so happens to have three stand out bill topping performances from Carell, Ruffalo and Tatum too. Unfortunately, this is squandered and allows a story with so much potential to end up being simply, decent – if heavily flawed.