"Great performances highlight great film"
by remotegoat reviewer on 17/01/15

Foxcatcher is your typical Oscar contender. It’s based on an extraordinary true story. It has a bunch of very accomplished actors, many of whom are performing at the top of their game. It has that central performance which anchors the movie. And, crucially, it’s quite fun to watch. Put it next to the other contenders that have just been announced, and this Bennett Miller film fits in very nicely.

The story is definitely extraordinary, and hard to believe that it happened less than thirty years ago. Mark and David Schultz, who both won gold medals in wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, were recruited by reclusive millionaire John DuPont to train the next generation of Olympic wrestlers at his purpose-built training centre. Known as Team Foxcatcher, it was an unlikely alliance with even unlikelier circumstances.

You don’t need me to tell you how all of this ended – a quick Google search will do a much better job of that – but I can tell you that a very solid job was done of bringing it to the screen. Bennett Miller is a director with proven success in biopics – Capote and Moneyball are both brilliant – and he continues in that vein with this. He’s very good at making sure he doesn’t take too many creative liberties, letting the truth of the story take precedence.

But when you look back on Miller’s past successes, what he does best is get excellent performances from the unlikeliest of actors and, with Foxcatcher, he gives that privilege to Steve Carell. Arguably one of the best comedy actors of the modern era, Carell was a massive gamble for this role, but he is fantastic. The prosthetic nose and hairpiece already help to strip away any preconceptions, but it is a performance so far removed from his previous work that you can’t help but be impressed. DuPont was the richest man in America at the time, but he was also a loner. Living in the shadow of his mother (a small but significant and vicious cameo from Vanessa Redgrave), he saw Team Foxcatcher as his way of getting acceptance. The way he goes about trying to achieve that is funny (in a twisted way), but Carell plays it straight. There’s no deliberate attempt to amuse, and neither does it happen accidentally. Every time he appears on screen, Carell makes you uncomfortable, especially as his power increases.

The other two points of this triangle casting are a mixed bag. On the one hand, we have Mark Ruffalo, who is the MVP. While Carell is the one getting all the media attention, it’s Ruffalo who quietly steals the show with a very understated and emotional performance. He is the moral compass of the movie and, like so many great performers before him, he manages to express deep, complex emotions just by shrugging his shoulders or laughing nervously. He is definitely up there as one of the best character actors of this generation, and a joy to watch. Channing Tatum, I’m not as sure of. He is a good actor, don’t get me wrong, and he isn’t bad in this. In fact, he surprised me with the maturity of the performance. But, the truth is, he’s a good actor but not a great one; and as Mark Schultz, who the film is following most, it needed somebody who could match Carell and Ruffalo. And he couldn’t. I sat there and kept wondering how different the film would have been if it was Tom Hardy up there. Similar builds, similar intensity, but Hardy is far above Tatum when it comes to acting chops. But we got Tatum, and he holds his own, so fair enough.

What people do need to know is that Foxcatcher isn’t a film about wrestling; there is, of course, some wrestling in it, but it’s there as a narrative device. In fact, one of the best scenes of the film is a wrestling ‘match’ between the Schultz brothers. It’s a five-minute scene where the older brother (Ruffalo) is training the younger one (Tatum), but there is clearly some tension. There are barely more than four or five words spoken, but we pretty much learn everything we need to know about the sibling relationship in that five minutes. Tremendous. At its core, Foxcatcher is about two things. The want and need for power; and the consequences of living in someone else’s shadow. Foxcatcher has rightfully got some great press, primarily because of Steve Carell’s performance, but I don’t think it’s quite there as an Oscar-winning movie. Of the three leads, Ruffalo is the one most deserving of an award (and he’s nominated for Best Supporting Actor), but there are other actors more deserving. Still, this is a really engaging, dramatic thriller which does justice to an extraordinary true story.

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