FlixChatter Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

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This film is what you’d call a quiet suspense type of film, brimming with unsettling tension throughout even when there’s barely any action going on. The film starts with the two pro-wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, respectively) as they practice in a gym. It gives us a glimpse into the relationship of the two of them and how Mark is a doting older brother to his rather tetchy younger brother. It’s also apparent that Mark is the better wrestler, though both are Olympic champions. The film then takes us into the process of how Mark ends up living in the large estate of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) who wants to coach Mark and his team for the 1988 games in Seoul.

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Carell underwent quite a physical transformation for the role, wearing a prosthetic nose and made up to look older. But not only that, he also altered his mannerism and even tone of voice that he’s barely recognizable here. To say he looks creepy is an understatement, and the whole set up certainly gets under your skin. Both Mark and John are two people who have been living under someone else’s shadow, which feeds into their insecurity, anxiety and in the case of John, paranoia. I actually read the story of this case prior to watching the film, but it didn’t ruin the experience for me as it’s more of a character study than a plot-driven film. The story focuses mostly on the odd and unsettling relationship between Mark and John for the first two acts, but by the time Dave becomes part of an unlikely trio in the third act, things got more sinister that lead to an eventual tragic event.

There’s a homoerotic undertones between Mark & John that’s deliberately kept vague. It’s left up to the viewers’ interpretation as to why later on Mark act as if he was betrayed, that it must’ve been something that cuts really deep for him to go 180 in his behavior towards John. I remember feeling as if I missed something here and it’s a bit frustrating. There’s also very little dialog in the film, which can be used to great effect, but that at times I feel that the film is a little too austere to really be emotionally engaging.

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This is the kind of film that truly rely on the skills of each actor and the three leads are more than up for the task. Carell obviously is the revelation here. Comedians can often be quite effective in serious roles and I know Carell has dramatic chops when I saw him in Little Miss Sunshine. But he took it up several notches here, displaying disquieting menace and creepy demeanor I’ve never seen before. Tatum’s good here in a taciturn role and you could say it’s quite a transformative performance for him as well as I’ve never seen him looking so dour. Ruffalo is a reliable actor and his character Dave is definitely the character I sympathized most here. Miller calls him the heart of the film despite him having the least screen time out of the three. He’s a natural choice for playing someone who’s got a thousand best friends, as Dave is revered on the wrestling and cherished by those who knew him. Vanessa Redgrave‘s appearance is basically a cameo but it’s a key scene that show how much John is so desperate of his mother’s love and approval. I’ve mentioned in my interview with the film’s director that Sienna Miller as Dave’s wife seems an unlikely choice but I think she’s fine in the role, though she wasn’t given that much to do until the finale.

Bennett Miller‘s direction style is so matter-of-fact that it sometimes feel like a documentary. But yet I feel it’s lacking a sense of time as I’m not sure when things happen from the time the characters first met to the time the violent incident occurs. For example, I read about the 48-hour standoff between John and the police, but in the film it felt more like 48 minutes. It also suggests that John’s mother’s passing directly led to the brutal finale, whilst in fact the two events are years apart. The slow pace also feels tedious at times, especially in the first act, and apart from a couple of amusing scenes, the mood is somber and grim throughout.

I must say that as much as I admire Foxcatcher, it’s not an enjoyable film and far from being a feel-good film. It’s one of those films one appreciate but not necessarily love as I couldn’t quite connect with any of the characters. Still, I’d recommend it for the amazing performances of the three main actors and it’s quite a fascinating tale of an American tragedy involving one of the country’s wealthiest and most prominent families.

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Has anyone seen this film? I’d love to hear what you think!