FlixChatter Review: Foxcatcher (2014)


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.


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.


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.

4 Reels

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

43 thoughts on “FlixChatter Review: Foxcatcher (2014)

  1. Ted S.

    Nice review Ruth, like I said before I still can’t see Carell as another other character but Michael Scott, even with the makeup on he’s still reminds me of the guy from The Office. I’ll just give it a rent when it hits Bluray.

    1. Y’know, whilst I’m watching him, not once did I think of him in Bruce Almighty, which is the role I remember him most from. He’s a more versatile actor than we give him credit for.

      1. Ted S.

        You know what’s funny, I didn’t even know he was in Bruce Almighty until I watch the film again a couple of years ago. He’s still an unknown then but after that he starred in 40 Year Old Virgin and of course The Office, very similar character. That’s why I can’t see him in another role since. Hopefully he’ll change my mind when I see this movie. For years I can’t see Tom Hanks in any movie without thinking of him as a cross dresser in Bosom Buddies.

  2. Stu

    Nice write-up Ruth. I’m really keen to see this, particularly for Carell’s performance, but presumably it won’t be out here until January. That’s always an amazing month in the UK – last year Her, Inside Llewyn Davis, The Wolf Of Wall St, Nebraska, American Hustle and 12 Years A Slave all came out within weeks of each other. This year we’ll probably get Foxcatcher, Inherent Vice, Whiplash and Birdman, among others. Busy time!

    1. That’s cool that January is a great month for new releases there. Here it’s considered the dead months for movies, basically Jan-March. But now some blockbusters are opened in March so that’s a good thing!

    1. I think it’s best going blind into this, though the film focuses more on the psyche and relationships of the characters instead of the chronological events. It’s a very somber film, in fact I’m glad I have Big Hero 6 scheduled right after that to take the edge off, ahah.

  3. Ruth, great review. Still waiting to find this in my area–I’ve only heard surprised, great things from Carell and the tone of the film changing from creepy to sinister. I wouldn’t be surprised if Carell gets nominated for this break out role. Remember Nicole Kidman won Best Actress because she put on a fake nose–it might work for Steve, too 😉

    1. Hi Cindy! Carell is excellent here, he truly embodied his character which is quite a feat as he seems so different from his real-life personality. Ha..ha.. well it took much more than just wearing a fake nose, but Oscar does seem to like actors who undergo an extreme transformation.

    1. Hi Brittani! I did too, I’m just too curious not to but y’know what, it didn’t ruin the experience for me, if anything it might’ve enhanced it.

  4. Hey Ruth! Glad to hear more great things about the three main performances. Can’t wait to see this one, though I admittedly keep forgetting about it.

    1. Hi Josh! Did it just open recently in your town? I reckon this would be fine to catch on a rental too, might’ve been better actually as it’s pretty slow-paced.

        1. Hopefully it’ll get to your indie cinemas, but usually when that happens it’s only for a few weeks. I was late to catch Nightcrawler and it’s already gone from theaters two weekends ago 😦

    1. Yeah apparently it was ineligible as the budget is considered too high, but glad they awarded the three leads as they all deserve it, esp. Carell!

  5. Great review Ruth. I am interested in seeing this one hopefully soon. Just by seeing the pictures I feel like I understand what you are saying about it not being a feel good movie. You made a lot of good points in your review, love it, thanks Ruth!

    1. Hi Mel, I think it’s worth seeing though it’s probably ok to see it as a rental too. It’s a bit too somber for my taste, I think if it weren’t for the performances I might not have been as engrossed.

      1. I am sure you are right! I do want to see it, exactly as you said to see Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell and Mark Ruffalo because I like all those guys, well except for Carrell, sometimes I like him sometimes he bugs me. Did you ever The Way Way Back, he was a real jerk in that so he can definitely turn on a different side.

  6. I so can’t wait to see it. It’s gonna be so weird seeing Carell like this after years of seeing him in The Office. Oh, Mark, the heart of everything 🙂

    1. Carell doesn’t look at all like himself here and the somber mood definitely helps you detach yourself from previous roles the actors’ played before. Mark is sooo good here, I think the film picked up every time he’s on screen. His hair is so terrible, not sure why they had to make it sooo bad as I think the real Dave’s hair looked a lot better. Still, Mark is just so watchable 😀

        1. Ahah well I actually think the opposite, the beard is fine but the hair is horrendous! I guess because Mark has such gorgeous curls y’know, but no matter, he’s still so watchable and you truly feel for his character.

  7. Wow, I’m more interested in this because it looks like a departure for Carell. But he proved to me in a film like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World that he add dramatic performances in him. I’ll be looking out for this. Thanks Ruth.

  8. I’m definitely interested in this film for the performances alone. Your review echoes quite a few I’ve already read about the somber tone, the creepy portrayal Carell offers, and the slow pace. Great review here, Ruth! I should probably get to seeing this one soon.

    1. Hi Kris! It’s definitely a very somber film, in fact I’m glad I have Big Hero 6 scheduled right after that to take the edge off, ahah. Worth seeing for the performances though.

      1. Yeah, Foxcatcher looks like a rough film to watch. It’s not showing over here at all (pity), but I’m guessing it’ll be shown in a wider release in the near future.

  9. Nice review. I thought it was an amazing movie for sure and Carrell’s and Ruffalo’s performances were amazing. I could actually see a few parallels between John de Pont and Michael Scott (both characters strive for friendship), but it’s a completely different kind of role for Carrell and one that he does very well.

    1. Hi there! I wouldn’t say the film is amazing but I agree about the performances. They make the film for me and makes up for the flaws. Interesting that you said du Pont is like his character in The Office, I never saw that but I guess if you put it that way I can see that. Of course Michael is not deranged though.

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