“I wanted to love this movie so bad. Winning cast and plot combo, I’d first heard whispers of it a year ago, when one of my reliable sources for early Oscar buzz was lamenting that this was pushed back to this year. I’ve been championing it as a serious contender, and would get a little sad and indignant every time it seemed to have fallen a little more out of favor. The release date was finally announced, only to find out that was the NY/LA release and I had to wait an extra two weeks. Using Turkey Day traffic as an excuse, I ducked out of work a little early and ran down to Coolidge Corner to the first possible screening I could make. My reaction when it was all over: um, okay.
Foxcatcher is the true story of Mark and Dave Schultz, brothers training for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the questionable relationship they had with their sponsor and sorta trainer John du Pont. Something is clearly not right in du Pont’s head, but the situation turns tragic before the brothers are fully able to realize it and get away. Okay, I’m trying to give a cryptic synopsis without giving away the ending. I knew all along what was going to eventually happen (I’d done my Wikipedia homework when buzz was first making the rounds), but it unfolded a lot differently from what I expected.
I’m still not sure that I liked it. I think I did. Our leading men, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and an unrecognizable Steve Carrell turned in absolutely outstanding performances (elaboration forthcoming). I knew it’d be somewhat disturbing, but I was expecting a delicously dark David Fincher lite kinda vibe. Instead, it was ridiculously uncomfortable. The pacing was a little slow, both for the story as a whole and for individual scenes. It certainly helped set the stage and tell you that something wasn’t right, but it didn’t make for a very pleasant watching experience.
Those boys though, absolutely pleasant watching experience, and I’m not just saying that because there was lots of minimally clothed Channing Tatum in Adonis-esque shape. This is one of the meatiest roles of his career, even if his character was reserved and his performance restrained. He had the intensity in his eyes that would burst forth in bigger manifestations when he couldn’t contain it anymore. He’s found his niche as the not smart but very determined type of character (Step Up, 21 Jump Street) and he expanded on it greatly here. I loved the brotherly relationship he portrayed with Ruffalo. You could see the love and respect they had between them, and Ruffalo possessed such great understanding. His may not have been as showy of a role has his costars, but his subtlety and emotional depth were crucial.
The ultimate performance in the film though was Steve Carrell as John du Pont. With the help of some prosthetics and a different speech pattern, he absolutely disappeared into the role. I love love love seeing comedians take on serious roles, and transformations and unexpected performances like this are why. The real meat of the story was in trying to understand du Pont. He was a man who felt inferior his whole life and constantly sought validation that he’d usually try to buy from unlikely sources. THat’s what ultimately drove all his actions. Its so difficult to take such an unlikeable character and make him so fascinating, but Carrell did that so well. He may be haunting my nightmares for a while, but it was worth it to see that performance.
Foxcatcher – \m/ \m/ \m/”