Film Review: Foxcatcher

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Foxcatcher Plot Summary:

Based on the true story of Olympic Wrestling Champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), and his dangerous relationship with millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), who funds Mark’s team for the 1988 Olympic games, and ultimately destroys the relationship between Mark and his brother/coach, David (Mark Ruffalo).

Foxcatcher is only director Bennett Miller’s third feature film, but he’s already made a name for himself with Capote (2005) and Moneyball (2011).  After watching Foxcatcher, Miller has now solidified himself as one of the best directors working in Hollywood today.  This is an extraordinary film that is tense from minute one all the way to the end credits.  In creating such a quiet atmospheric/Drive-esque tone, this movie makes you feel visibly nervous for Mark Schultz, as his relationship with John du Pont gets scarier and scarier.  When a film can pull you in like this, you know you’ve made something special.  What Miller excels even more at though is what he’s able to get out of these actors.  With the exception of David O. Russell, I’m not sure there’s a better director right now who’s able to conjure up such fantastic performances.  Wow.

Tatum Poster

We’ll get to Steve Carell, don’t you worry.  But we have to start with Channing Tatum, because he’s going under the radar, and I cannot stress enough how good he is in this film.  If there was an award for Most Improved Actor Of All Time, Tatum would win in a landslide.  It’s amazing to think this guy was considered a Twilight level actor only a few years ago.  Not only has he proven he can do comedy really well, but after seeing Foxcatcher, his dramatic chops can no longer be questioned.

This is a heartbreaking performance, and the subtlety Tatum is able to display in this character is on the level of Ryan Gosling in Drive, and if you’ve read me on this site for a while, you know that’s high praise.  You sympathize with this character so damn much.  He’s so driven to be the greatest wrestler in the world, but despite winning a gold medal, he’s still overshadowed by his brother.  The sibling jealously theme is certainly one we’ve seen before, and Tatum nails it.  Mark is not stupid, but he’s obviously being duped and ripped apart by this absolute slimeball, and it’s emotionally wrenching to watch unfold.  There’s one sequence in particular where Mark has completely lost it, and in the span of 3-5 minutes on film, throws his entire life away.  It’s painful to sit through, but powerful, and Tatum gives an Oscar level performance at the highest level.

While Mark Ruffalo isn’t given as many big moments as Tatum or Carell, his performance is right up there.  As David Schultz, he’s the real heart of the film.  He wants nothing more than to help his brother, which makes the wedge that is driven between them so tough to watch.  Where Ruffalo shines though is in emulating the pure pain on his face as he watches Mark make all the wrong decisions.  As Mark’s coach, he’s not upset because he’s being shunned, he’s upset because he’s being forced to watch his younger brother throw everything away.

Alright, we’ve teased it long enough.  As phenomenal as Tatum and Ruffalo were, Steve Carell truly is the best element to this entire film.  As someone who’s never enjoyed Carell’s comedy, I’ll take him in any dramatic role that will have him.  I hate to use the cliché, but Carell really does transform into another person, much like Jared Leto in Dallas Buyer’s Club.  Even though his first scene with Tatum appears to be helping him, Carell and Bennett Miller do a great job of blatantly telling the audience that this guy is bad news.  That first scene in particular with John du Pont has you shaking.  It’s just uncomfortable.  This is a complete scumbag of a human being, and Carell plays it beautifully.  The way his voice and facial expressions sort of drift like he’s on drugs, and the way the character pauses in his speech could have easily been over played, but Carell straddles a line that is perfect, like a dart hitting the bullseye.  Carell gives a legendary performance.

Carell Poster

The only other performance I want to touch on is Vanessa Redgrave, who plays John du Pont’s mom, Jean.  She’s not in it a ton, but plays a crucial role in regard’s to du Pont’s character.  Even though you don’t sympathize with du Pont, it’s because of his mom why everything he does makes sense in his warped mind.  There are two scenes where Jean rips du Pont to shreds, one in dialogue, and the other completely visual.  Both are effective because of Redgrave.

While the performances are clearly what make the film great, it still goes back to the tone.  There are so many neat little touches early in the film before you even see or hear du Pont that foreshadows the destructive relationship he’ll eventually have with Mark.  It’s brilliant.

Bennett Miller might give the most impressive directing effort of the year with this one.  While it drags a tad here and there, this is an intricately crafted film that is detail oriented in the best way possible.  Every moment counts.  There is barely any music in the film, but it’s definitely the right call.  You can feel the mood coming off the screen because of this.  Miller does his best Darren Aronofsky impression, and in some ways even outshines him.  And just as in every Aronofsky movie, this is not an upper of an ending, but the last shot with Tatum, and the way he looks, sums up the movie perfectly.  Bennett Miller delivers a powerfully tragic film, and gives us three monumental performances that without a doubt make for one of the best pictures of the year.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.
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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.

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