Foxcatcher

 

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A true story in search of a gripping narrative.

 
Foxcatcher

Steve Carell

 

Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher opens with the legend “based on a true story.” Of course, certain events and characters have been changed for dramatic effect. However, to be blatantly honest, there’s not a lot of story and very little drama. Miller, who previously directed the critically acclaimed Capote and Moneyball, is a master of the minor key. Here, he’s subdued the frequently manic Steve Carell to a state of restrained ambiguity in the role of the phenomenally wealthy John Eleuthère du Pont, an eccentric philanthropist, philatelist, ornithologist and wrestling enthusiast. Du Pont is probably a fascinating character, but in spite of the camera’s silent devotion to Carell’s minimalist performance and prosthetic nose, we learn little of what drove or motivated or excited the man. Nominally, Foxcatcher is a film about wrestling, but it embraces the visceral excitement of the sport as reluctantly as Miller’s Moneyball connected with baseball. Miller seems more interested in the psychological underpinnings of the milieu but ends up presenting a rather abstruse reading of it. Essentially an actor’s director, he has won countless plaudits for his stars – for Philip Seymour Hoffman and Catherine Keener in Capote and for Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill in Moneyball – and both Carell and his co-star Mark Ruffalo have been soundly applauded for their turns here. However, it’s a beefed-up Channing Tatum who dominates the film in screen time, playing the real-life world champion freestyle wrestler Mark Schultz, who is adopted by the enigmatic du Pont. In the film, Schultz is every bit as troubled as his benefactor, although Miller provides few clues as to why, other than Schultz’s overbearing inferiority complex, in spite of an Olympic gold medal. The fly in the ointment is Mark’s older brother Dave Schultz (Ruffalo), also a wrestler and a seven-time world and Olympic medallist. All three actors turn in exquisitely modulated performances and Greig Fraser's otherworldly cinematography adds considerably to an atmosphere of stark poignancy and impending doom. But however beautifully rendered all of this is, the film still cries out for a narrative with as much meat on its bones as Tatum’s inexplicably hapless athlete.

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

Cast: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd.

Dir Bennett Miller, Pro Megan Ellison, Bennett Miller, Jon Kilik and Anthony Bregman, Screenplay E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Ph Greig Fraser, Pro Des Jess Gonchor, Ed Stuart Levy, Conor O'Neill and Jay Cassidy, Music Rob Simonsen and West Dylan Thordson, Costumes Kasia Walicka-Maimone.

Annapurna Pictures/Likely Story-Entertainment One.
134 mins. USA. 2014. Rel: 9 January 2015. Cert. 15.