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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Foxcatcher 2014 * * * Stars

FoxcatcherDirector: Bennett Miller
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum

Even if you don't know a thing about the sport of Olympic wrestling (or for that matter, never watch it on TV), you'll still be impressed by the intricacies and accuracy at which 2014's Foxcatcher goes about its two-hour plus running time. Based on a true story, this film gives you three actors (Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum) like you've never seen them before. And it provides you with direction from Bennett Miller that translates into calm and confident (almost too calm) with a side of medium cool.

As you watch Foxcatcher, you sense that everyone who worked on it wanted things to be as authentic as possible. You can also tell that the rich cast probably researched their roles as grapplers (and as coaches) and Miller approved what seemed like a thorough script comprised by two writers (Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye). But while "Catcher" has one pulverizing scene of violence and great performances, it doesn't quite wring you by the neck like it should. This thing moves at a snail's pace with plenty of mundane atmospherics. It's solid by historical standards but not in same league as the director's previous work (that would be the 2011 masterpiece, Moneyball).

Filmed almost entirely in Pennsylvania (that explains the lack of sunshine and earthy tones) and taking place in the latter part of the 1980's, Foxcatcher tells the real life story of two Olympic wrestlers (Mark Ruffalo as Dave Schultz and Channing Tatum as Mark Schultz) who are befriended, taken in, and mentored by a creepy, dour millionaire named John du Pont (Steve Carell, who's screen presence for some reason gave off a Norman Bates vibe). The 1988 Seoul Olympics are less than a year away and du Pont wants to sponsor his "Foxcatcher" team of hungry hopefuls (he lets everyone live on his estate and even builds a wrestling facility for them, how interesting). When things go sour between Mark and John (don't ever slap Channing Tatum across the face and call him an ape, ha ha), their relationship reaches a breaking point and Tatum's Mark leaves to train somewhere else. As Foxcatcher carries on, Dave reluctantly stays around with his family. He continues to live and coach on du Pont's property only to fall to tragedy in the film's final act.

Now if you've read the background on Foxcatcher's true happenings, you're gonna know what occurs a mile away (and it is indeed tragic). The concluding murder scene (as mentioned earlier) is visceral and heartbreaking. However, the monotone journey to get to that point doesn't beef it up much. The closing credits come up and things somehow just turn into a ho hum experience. Case in point: "Catcher" jumps from the 88' Seoul Olympics to January 1996 (the time of said murder) within only a scene and a half. What happened in those years? What as an audience, did we miss? Editing flap? Possibly.

In retrospect, I predict that on January 15th (the day of the Oscar nominations), Steve Carell will probably be up for Best Actor. With a prosthetic nose, altered face make-up, and false teeth, his portrayal of du Pont is I suppose, an impersonation but still startlingly good. He proves to me that he's found a new niche in Hollywood (call this a comeback since his stints in comedy lately have really gone downhill). I would also endorse the always effective, Mark Ruffalo. He plays David Schultz with a realized sympathy and a heartening level of tolerance. Here's hoping that he gets a supporting nod (it would register as his second in the last five years). As for Foxcatcher itself, it's more of a movie to revel in character study mechanisms than to savor as invigorating, compelling fodder. It occasionally "catches" fire only to unabashedly leave you a bit cold.

Of note: Towards "Catcher's" conclusion, you'll hear some of its film score completely lifted from the 2002 indie, Gerry. I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but it's beautiful nonetheless. Oh and look for a central trademark from Bennett Miller when it comes to close-ups with his actors. He seems to love capturing them just thinking or staring forward. It was put to effective use with Brad Pitt in Moneyball and it really seems to work here. Finally, I was torn in wondering whether Carell's du Pont was psychotic, socially inept, lonely, just needed a friend, or had too much easy access to guns (the film doesn't document his defense strategy or his actual murder trial unfortunately). If you haven't seen Foxcatcher yet, there's your recommended multiple choice.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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