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Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Everyman's Movie Review: Foxcatcher

When I first saw the trailer of Foxcatcher I was instantly hooked. After Moneyball, I was in on director Bennett Miller, I was in on Steve Carell doing his best to win an Oscar, I was in on Channing Tatum trying to expand his range, and I was in on a stylish, creepy movie about a creepy fucking dude. I was so excited about this film, that I ranked it as my #2 most anticipated film of this fall season. In that column I wrote, "I actually can't imagine a scenario where Foxcatcher is bad 'per se' but I can envision a scenario where the film is just not as good as I am hyping it up to be."

As it turns out, Foxcatcher is bad. I mean really bad. It's not Troll 2 or Saving Christmas bad, but it is not a good movie. I could take a movie with great performances that's not very engaging or a movie in which I am self-aware enough to know that I don't like it because my expectations were set way too high (because at least then I can re-watch the film), but neither is the case with Foxcatcher. The film's main problem (among many) is that there is no conflict. For the vast majority of this movie, these characters just exist. They're there, and that's it. I could actually take that if Bennett Miller was properly setting mood and tone to help the audience feel uncomfortable surrounding a creepy situation, but that doesn't happen either. What's most infuriating about the story that's been chosen to be told is that natural conflict should arise. The whole reason this story deserves to be made into a movie is rife with conflict, yet that barely shines through.

Foxcatcher is the story about how Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) comes to train and live with billionaire John du Pont (Carell). One day, out of the blue, du Pont calls up Mark and invites him to his estate in Pennsylvania. du Pont tells Mark that he wants to be his athletic sponsor and invites him to live and train on the lavish du Pont estate. Mark agrees and soon packs up all of his things in his tiny little car and treks his way to Pennsylvania. However, when he gets to the estate, life is not what he expected. John du Pont doesn't greet him with open arms and isn't as jovial as he was during their first meeting. The relationship that du Pont and Mark have early on seems jilted and off, but at the same time, Mark uses that as fuel and motivation in his training and wresting matches.

The film is centered around the relationship between Mark Schultz and John du Pont and what happens to that relationship over the next few years. The problem is that nothing really happens with this relationship. Sure, something happens at the very end, but it's too little too late. For the vast majority of this movie, it's just Mark and John hanging out together, John decided to purchase a tank. Cool beans. Mark trains John a little how to wrestle, Alright. The best part of the two hours of these two characters just sort of existing is when the two are flying on a helicopter and John first introduces Mark to cocaine. The only reason this scene is all that noticeable is because it seems Carell and Tatum (mainly the former) were improvising and it got a nice chuckle out of me. Other than that, it's just these character existing.

I think what Bennett Miller and company were trying to do was show the psychological hold that John was imposing on Mark. The trailers for the film reiterate the line "a coach is a father, a coach is a mentor, a coach has great power of an athlete's life" with the crescendo-ing score in the background to make you believe that this movie will deliver on this twisted relationship, but it does no such thing. You'd hope that the wrench in the machine of this relationship will be Mark's brother David (Mark Ruffalo) and the film certainly seemed like it was heading in that direction, but again this was just another broken promise that the film failed to deliver on. I would have loved to have seen a story about this weird relationship triangle between John du Pont, Mark Schultz, and David Schultz, and I would have loved to seen the film the trailers made it seem like it supposed to be, but instead all we get is a movie you can't stop looking at your watch counting down the seconds until it will end. I'm confident that the reason the writers and director were compelled to this movie was because of what happens to John du Pont at the end of this film, and Bennett Miller and team tried their best to deliver on why things happen they way they did, but what came across on screen just lifeless and boring.

Speaking of John du Pont, I'd like to talk about Steve Carell for a second. I like Steve Carell a lot as an actor and he does his very best with what he has to work with, but he is so woefully miscast in Foxcatcher that it took me out of the picture. For starters, the make up department did a horrendous job. Carell looks different from scene to scene because it appears that the make up department decided it didn't want to be consistent on a day-to-day basis during filming. Secondly, it looks as if Carell's character is supposed to be 60 or 70 years old, so it seemed odd that 52 year old Carell was doing this character. As it turns out, Steve Carell now was about the same age John du Pont was when these events took place, which makes these make up choices all the more baffling. Carell breathes heavily, is very deliberate in this film, and he performs in such a different manner that I shouldn't have noticed that this was Steve Carell, but that's all I kept noticing the entire time. So many people have said that they watch Foxcatcher and they can't even tell that they're watching Steve Carell. I can absolutely see why people say that and feel that way, but it just didn't do it for me. John du Pont should have been this spoiled, creepy egomaniac and he just wasn't, I will say though, that I think the performance on screen of John du Pont is way more the fault of the casting director and Bennett Miller than it is on Steve Carell. The perfect casting choice for John du Pont would have been Miller's muse for his first two films: Philip Seymour Hoffman. Not only would the film not have had to do any drastic make up additions (it's not like Steve Carell ended up looking at all like the real John du Pont anyways) but Hoffman would have added depth and intensity to the bland words on the page.

Like Carell, the other actor getting plenty of praise is Mark Ruffalo. Ruffalo is a very good actor and he never mails in a performance (even in Foxcatcher) but he didn't deliver a performance here that makes you want to throw nominations in his general direction. Truthfully, there was no distinction here between Ruffalo's performance as David Schultz versus his performance as Dr. Banner in The Avengers versus his performance in The Kids Are Alright. Again, I mean no disrespect to Mr. Ruffalo and he's very good, but I just don't see this performance as "Academy Nomination Good".

Truthfully, the actor who gives the best performance out of everyone is Anthony Michael Hall as John du Pont's assistant. I'm just kidding, it's Channing Tatum. For all of the Best Actor accolades Steve Carell is getting, Foxcatcher is first and foremost the story of Tatum's character, and Tatum does a very good job of creating the emotional arc of the story. Tatum is the one that has to convince everyone to love and respect John du Pont and he's also the one who suffers the most out of the emotional roller coaster that ensues. Because of Channing Tatum's physique, he's perfectly cast for the role of an Olympic wrestler, and he gets to show his critics he can act a little. In general, Tatum is at his best when he can just be charming and goofy like in 21 Jump Street or even Magic Mike, and because he's not asked to do that in Foxcatcher his performance is pretty stiff, but overall, he does a pretty darn good job. In this deep year, I don't think he deserves any Best Actor nominations, but I would like to hear his name getting thrown around more than it is.

Despite the acting, this film is poorly executed in almost every facet of production. The story that should have been, and what I believe was trying to be told, was not there. Bennett Miller does a terrible job directing this rudderless nonsense, and Foxcatcher is not a movie you should ever waste your time or your money on. What's even worse, is that this film is going to get a buttload of Academy Award nominations, which makes it even more sad that a film that Guardians of the Galaxy won't earn any major awards because it's not viewed as prestigious enough. Guardians is better written than Foxcatcher, is more well directed Foxcatcher, is more original than Foxcatcher, and is a film you should see over and over again. Foxcatcher is a film that has the aura and stench of something that should be great and should be praised, but in the end, don't believe the hype.



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