Sunday 22 February 2015

Review: Foxcatcher

Year: 2014 (2015 U.K release)
Director: Bennett Miller
Screenplay: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo

Synopsis is here

There’s a mordant sense of humour running through Miller’s Foxcatcher that creeps up from time to time. Something you shouldn’t think should appear and yet is quite welcoming when it does. Watching protagonist (Tatum) strain his reasons on why winning Olympic gold is important, to a bunch of wide eyed, befuddled children has a quiet drollness to it. As is the twisted matter of Bennet Miller’s American true crime drama is ultimately a Greek Tragedy of dysfunctional families, set within the world of competitive wresting, which of course became prominent in Ancient Greece.

It’s too bad that despite having such a sense of self, Foxcatcher is such a distancing slog to get through. It’s a film which is competently crafted and features a trio of performances which, with their differing areas of physicality, do raise an eyebrow from scene to scene. The first, awkward engagement between Tatum’s Mark Schultz and his brother Dave (Ruffalo) is such an interesting jumbled mess of sibling tension and force I had high hopes for where the rest of the film was heading. Unfortunately, two considerably long hours later, I found myself still no deeper than the scratches that may have been caused during this first grapple. The tragedy between these brothers is indeed upsetting, but Miller’s remarkably static film did little to stir.

The film is understandably meant to be a little cold, as the characters we follow the most are not only unlikely bedfellows, but difficult people to engage with due to their simmering tensions between class and family. The scene in which Steve Carrell’s John E du Pont first meets Dave and his family is one of the more potent moments. Miller’s simple blocking of the scene easily show the division between the blue collar yet connected family, and the isolated aristocrat trying to purchase his way into such a warm relationship. Such moments highlight the discomfort accordingly.

Despite this, I found myself so alienated by the films blunt, matter of fact approach, I struggled to identify fully with the proceedings. This is obviously not a film to “enjoy” in the typical sense, yet at no point did my own defences go down for what was happening on the screen. The films immensely dour approach and turgid pace overshadowed the films main attractions: The cast.

Channing Tatum’s Mark is brusque and stoic creature. His jutted out jaw, furrowed brow and physical stature, hides his character’s na├»ve ideals which slowly seep through as the film pushes on. The roles help show the actor’s ability to corrupt the dumb, man child nature that many have known him for when cast the amusing Jump Street films. Mark Ruffalo; ever the effective character actor, morphs his poise beautifully as he becomes the film’s heart. He makes being the film only emotional link look far too easy for his own good. The intensely creepy Du Pont has Carrell channeling his inner Bela Lugosi to good measure. However, observing the real Du Pont, makes the clipped mannerisms of Carrell feel a tad overblown. There’s also a feeling that delving into the grey matter of such a troubled being is a step too far. As such, Du Pont feels a lot like a cartoon boogeyman stuck in a high class crime reconstruction. The heavy makeup doesn’t help matters.

Between this and Moneyball, Bennett Miller is locating fascinating subject matter within modern sports to focus his energies on. Foxcatcher however, does little to make me delve into the backstories of this unfortunate event in the same way that Moneyball opened my eyes to the modern ideas that lay within America’s favourite pastime. If I saw myself viewing this film again, there’s a good chance I’d be tapping out early.