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Foxcatcher – Movie Review

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Foxcatcher – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

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With Moneyball, director Bennett Miller delved into the classic sports movie of the underdog team who defied the odds. Possibly finding it a little too heartwarming, Miller has crafted the polar opposite: an anti-sports film, with a bleakness running through its veins. This is a slow-burn movie that at no point wants its real-life protagonists to see happiness and success in their future. And to emphasis this further, Miller has employed three actors normally known for friendly, happy-go-lucky figures and ripped those out of them. Its pacing and characters won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you’re patient with it, the end result is worthwhile.

Of the three central characters, the lunky brute is surprisingly the most developed. All he has is wrestling on the brain, yet screenwriters Max Frye and Dan Futterman make him into a fully realised individual. Channing Tatum is also pivotal to that. While on the surface, Tatum may seem like he’s reprising past roles of his, he is actually very transformative. Through his posture, his wrestling moves, the way he dresses and even his hair, Mark Schultz evolves as the film goes on, all connected by the billionaire who funds him. Steve Carell does depart from his usual persona as John du Pont, a man constantly lost in his thoughts and obsessions. With the pacing of Miller’s direction and Carell’s performance, there is an unsettling tone to the way he communicates as well as a mystery to his actions. Does he want to belong? Does he want to get away from the shadows of his mother’s pedigree horses? The movie wants us to think about and dissect du Pont’s decisions. However, one does wish certain elements were explored more deeply.

When directing Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller has elected for the minimal approach. This is effective in the first half, as the mood is set and the people are introduced. The conversations are captivating and it successfully throws you into Mr. du Pont’s weird plan. Throughout all of this is not only the relationship between du Pont and Mark, but the one between the Schultz brothers. When David Schultz comes in, there’s a ripple effect that continues to unravel as the story continues. Watching it boiling, there’s a constant worry about what will happen to all of these character we’re watching. They are unhinged and each snap at pivotal moments. Miller succeeds in keeping us in engaged in these cold, emotionless people with du Pont being the one we’re most afraid of doing something drastic, even more-so than the wrestler.

However, when tragedy does strike, there’s a lingering question of why. There seems to be a missing piece of the puzzle and even with the build-up, it strangely feels like there was none to begin with. At a little over two hours, it does feel like necessary character development has been left out to properly lead up to the ending. It could be argued that the uncertainty fits the du Pont character, but when the end credits roll, one wishes the script had explored him more. His relationship with his mother is similarly under-developed, outside of a crucial scene where she bemoans John’s interest in wrestling. The second half will certainly test the patience of a number of people and the final act in particular will throw some viewers off.

Nonetheless, Bennett Miller does a solid job of crafting a sinister and gloomy atmosphere. This is not a cheery sports movie, but rather a complete antithesis of the genre as it shows how the drive to win can occasionally lead to the worst possible scenario. It’s key that the other members of Team Foxcatcher are all background extras with no lines, since the focus is kept appropriately on just the man who put it together and the two wrestlers he is entangled with. There is something unsettling and cold about Foxcatcher, but that is effective in a story that is anything but uplifting.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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