Genre: Biography, Drama, Sport
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave
Mark Schultz’s journey from freshman hopeful, to Olympic gold medallist, to despondent also-ran is a story that has a lot going for it both psychologically and thematically. While Schultz’s book – chronicling his own recollection of the events of his life – had other problems that held it down, it was my hope that the film, in Bennett Miller’s capable hands, would be able to take that same story and exploit it’s full potential.
Therein lies the problem. The film only covers half of the story, picking up as Schultz (Channing Tatum) is approached by John du Pont (Steve Carell) with a proposition to train and live at ‘Foxcatcher Farm’. This does have its merits as it allows the film to focus almost exclusively on the effect du Pont – a volatile, childlike millionaire – has on Schultz and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo).
However, by removing all that came before – Schultz’s aforementioned journey towards greatness and his struggle for funding thereafter – there is far less to contextualise Schultz’s persona. The intricacies of Tatum’s portrayal allow some insight, yet the audience’s connection is artificial, built not through shared experiences early on in the film, but through hints and pointers. Even the two climatic scenes have a lessened impact, simply because their foundations are too weak to produce the full effect.
The script leaves areas to be desired. It’s not so much the content that is the problem but rather the dialogue, which feels like it is trying to do too much, overcompensating for the lack of precedent resulting from the in medias res beginning. Many of the scenes felt as if they were trying to imply too much, when in this case less would have been more.
Thankfully, the acting is top notch. The central trio of Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo all nail their portrayals. All three are distinctly physical performances, each bringing particular mannerisms and movements that add much to their roles. In Carell’s case it is often his lack of movement that is so effective; his posture when sitting, head completely still, tilted upwards and away from his peer – is rather unnerving, and the contrast between this extreme immobility and his manic state paints a fantastic picture of the unhinged state of the man. One can see why his performance, especially for someone used to portraying characters a galaxy away from du Pont, is garnering so much acclaim.
Special mention should go to director Bennett Miller, whose confident and steadying hand is also responsible for the significant physical element to the film. Thanks to Miller and his cast, Foxcatcher is a solidly acted and directed film. Unfortunately the questionable script and noticeable departures from reality stop it from being truly spectacular.