I loved Bennett Miller’s first two films, Capote and Moneyball. Therefore I was disappointed with his third, Foxcatcher, which, like the first two, is based on true events. Unlike the other two, there is no real heart to the film, and instead is just about a very strange man who is not all that interesting.
Steve Carell, weighed down with makeup, plays John du Pont, a scion of the wealthy family. He would seem to have a host of mental problems, including megalomania and a severe mommy issue. While his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) favors horses, he’s taken a shine to wrestling, and has built a state of the art training facility.
That’s where the Schultz brothers come in. Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) have both won Olympic gold medals. But as we join Mark, he doesn’t seem to be living much of a life. He trains, but lives alone and eats ramen noodles by himself. Dave has a family and coaches at a college.
When Tatum is contacted by Carell to be an anchor in his training program, he is thrilled. Another layer of the film is that of brothers, as Tatum has always believed himself to be in his brother’s shadow. Ruffalo refuses to join Carell, citing family issues, so Tatum bonds with Carell, willingly allowing the man to be his mentor.
Here’s the problem–no person would spend five minutes with Carell, at least as portrayed in this film, and not realize he’s as mad as a hatter. Carell’s performance, while interesting in a technical way, does not influence me. It’s really a stunt performance. From Carell’s first appearance in the film, the rest of the action is just a downward slide to its tragic climax.
The movie looks great. The photography by Greig Fraser is top-notch, especially the scenes at Foxcatcher farm in Pennsylvania. One scene, that has Carell leading horses out of a barn into a fog, is pretty amazing. But the script, by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, comes up short. It pokes around at why du Pont is the way he is–mostly because he’s trying to please his mother–but mental illness isn’t that easily solved. Reading about the true story, I see that there were other factors that led to the climax that are not even hinted at in the film, and should have been.
Tatum and Ruffalo give much better performances. Tatum, his jaw jutting forward, gives us a view of the athlete who knows no other life. He lumbers, his body like a coiled spring, his mind set on only the basics. Ruffalo plays a much more rounded man (there is no indication of a love life for Tatum) who wants the best for his brother and his family, and gets sucked in to Carell’s insanity.
While the film looks great (and kudos to those who taught Tatum and Ruffalo how to wrestle) it’s as Gertrude Stein defined Oakland: there’s no there there.
My grade for Foxcatcher: C+.