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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Friday, April 24, 2015

Movie Review - Foxcatcher

Foxcatcher (2014)
Starring Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, and Sienna Miller
Directed by Bennett Miller

Although the term "methodical" oftentimes carries a somewhat negative connotation, using that word to describe Foxcatcher conveys no ill will towards director Bennett Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.  Instead, their methodical (which some may call slow or [egads!] even boring) approach of retelling the true story of the relationship between wrestling aficionado John du Pont (Steve Carell) and wrestler brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo) gives such depth and insight into the characters being portrayed onscreen that I couldn't help but find myself totally captivated and involved in this tragic story from beginning to end.

Knowing full well that the film ends in tragedy, it's often a difficult task to maintain a sense of discovery.  Miller doesn't necessarily hide from the end result as there's always a foreboding sense of disquiet afoot.  However, in a somewhat risky move, Miller takes his time getting to the finale by slowly peeling away the layers of each of his trio of main characters, revealing their initial psychoses which lead them to befriend one another and how their internalized emotions gradually change as their relationships blossom and disintegrate.  This is a film where the absence of speaking says just as much as a spoken word and Miller capitalizes on this beautifully as he brings us into the minds of both the innocent and guilty parties with equal time allotted to both.

Foxcatcher would not have been remotely successful, however, without the work of three fantastic actors -- two of whom are not the least bit known for being able to carry a film of this weight.  While Little Miss Sunshine may have clued us in to the slightly sullen side of Steve Carell, his taking on of the exceedingly wealthy John du Pont is certainly not de rigeur for the actor.  While he has the money, Carell's du Pont certainly doesn't have the social skills, keeping himself decidedly distant in any conversation he carries on, attempting to stay as disconnected as possible -- seemingly the result of a strained childhood relationship with his mother Jean (Vanessa Redgrave).  When he finally allows Olympic gold medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) into his life, the sense of entitlement that we witness du Pont feeling (and Carell conveying) is frightening.

Mark, on the other hand, views du Pont as a bit of a father figure seeing as how his parents were not a large part of his life.  From the film's start, Mark is a loner who is committed to his sport.  There's a depression embodied by Channing Tatum that's undeniable and his animalistic monotone delivery of monosyllabic words indicates that he can't help feel that he doesn't belong anywhere.  Upon discovering du Pont's interest in his talents, there are tinges of pride that creep into Tatum's performance which inevitably, by film's end, harm the character as Mark begins to see the man du Pont truly is.

While the film tends to focus on the psychological mindsets of John and Mark, part of the reason for their disintegrating relationship is the brotherly bond between Mark and older brother David played by Mark Ruffalo.  Thinking that Mark needs a little space and time to clear his head after his successful Olympic run and having lived in his brother's shadow for years, David accepts Mark's decision to train at du Pont's newly formed Foxcatcher wrestling facility, but David recognizes Mark's near-immediate lack of commitment to the sport he once loved which causes David to question du Pont's training techniques (or lack there of) and motives.  Needless to say this doesn't sit too well with du Pont and David finds himself in the ominous glare of the wealthy man.  The amiable David isn't necessarily a difficult role for Ruffalo to play (and is certainly the least showiest of the three), but he is the crux of both John and Mark's emotional upheavals by film's end and Ruffalo certainly does a nice job.

Foxcatcher is a warped love triangle of sorts -- and I don't mean that in a sexualized way as the real-life Mark Schultz criticized.  There is a dark comic tinge to all of the proceedings thanks to the obvious jealousy on display by all parties involved, particularly du Pont.  The overbearing sense of power, prestige, and perniciousness that du Pont brings to the party ominously hangs over everything we see.  Bennett Miller elevates the film beyond my expectations thanks to his careful developing of every single character.  Motivations are rarely spoken, but are never vague, and that's an enviable feat which makes Foxcatcher one of the best films of 2014.

The RyMickey Rating:  A-

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