As 2014 trickled away, the push for all the potentially Oscar nominated fare slowly arrives in my neck of the woods, or courtesy of the Internet. Until the day arrives that I begin to receive screeners to watch at my leisure instead of “borrowing” from other sources, this is the reality of the situation. Now that that little rant is done let’s get to “Foxcatcher,” a film that wants to be so good, and it is for the most part, but it’s reluctant to be as good as it could be.
“Foxcather” is the true story of the US Olympic Wrestling program and John Du Pont, the eccentric millionaire heir to the Du Pont fortune. Leading up to the 1988 Seoul Summer Games, Du Pont wants to bankroll and make his estate, Foxcather, the official training facility of the US Wrestling Team. Du Pont invites gold medalist, Mark Schultz, and his brother, David, to help train for the Games, and while Dave declines as to not uproot his family, the Mark leaves to join du Pont and carve out his own Olympic legacy. Over the course of training, Mark’s life and career begin to fall apart as du Pont blurs the lines between “coach”, friend, father, and trainer.
Here is the thing about “Foxcatcher,” the less you know, the better off you will be. Personally, I knew next to nothing about this true story and it helped my enjoyment of the film quite a bit. To be honest, it’s the same well I felt when I was watching “Moneyball.” The way that Bennett Miller weaves true stories into tales of mythic proportions is quite amazing and the level of performance he gets from his actors is also something to be applauded. However, unlike “Capote” and “Moneyball,” I find “Foxcatcher” to be Miller’s most reluctant work to date, and perhaps it’s because he is dealing with a much more personal and tragic story, but it feels like something is being held back for much of the over two hour run time of the film.
This isn’t to say that “Foxcather” isn’t a good film; it’s quite good, but similar to the issue that I had with another one of my top films of 2014, “Whiplash” the acting performances outshine the totality of the film itself. While both Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo have been getting the bulk of the accolades, and rightfully so, it’s Channing Tatum, whose turn as tortured Olympic wrestler, Mark Schultz, is the unspoken gem of the film. Tatum has been on a tear lately with great comedic turns in the “21 Jump Street” films and showcasing some real acting chops in “Magic Mike” but his acting in “Foxcatcher” is on another level. He is what makes the film go and his scenes with Carell’s du Pont and Ruffalo’s David Schultz, are amazing. He’s come a long way from “Step Up” if I do say so myself.
Speaking of Carell, he continues to impress and has come a long way from his days as Michael Scott from “The Office.” His take on eccentric millionaire John du Pont is haunting and reminds me a lot of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s take on Truman Capote. It’s taut, creepy, and child-like as du Pont is truly a “man” in need of purpose and finds it in Mark until times get tough.
The last thing I’ll bring up is the actual setting of the du Pont residence which gives “Foxcatcher” an almost horror movie feeling with a touch of “Fargo” thrown in. The Foxcatcher estate is creepy and whether covered in a thick layer of fog or a white blanket of snow, the hollowed grounds add a creepy element where you almost expected a masked killer with an ax to appear from behind tree.
“Foxcatcher” while great, is flawed, and it’s mainly in the pacing. I feel like 15-20 minutes could have been cut from the film and the same story could have been told. With all that being said, however, I truly enjoyed the film and just the acting alone makes it one of the favorites of 2014.
Fun Fact: Wrestling was first introduced in the ancient Olympic Games in 708 B.