Foxcatcher is a fascinatingly dark film that engages the audience in an intense psychological battle and features some of the year’s best performances. After handling two other strange real-life stories in Capote and Moneyball, director Bennet Miller delivers another solid feature that strays between hard drama and slow-paced thriller.
Miller has made a career in the film industry by creating memorable and remarkable characters, and Foxcatcher’s individuals are no different. Similar to Capote and Moneyball, the film’s limited cast allows for a deeper understanding of their motivations, though occasionally the character motivations are lost within the film’s events, particularly in the third act. It’s also interesting that Miller chose to create a fairly ensemble based piece, in the sense that the three leads never overshadow each other or take the spot of “main character”; while it may come off as unfocused at some points, this is usually a smart move that allows the events of the film to be shown in multiple perspectives.
The strength of the film is primarily in the power of the actors. Steve Carell delivers a deeply disturbed performance as John du Pont, and uses subtlety, specifically in facial expressions and body language, to convey a three-dimensional and utterly bizarre character, in a performance worthy of an Academy Award nomination, if not win, for Best Actor. Channing Tatum is also a revelation here; the usually limited actor delivers an incredible performance, convincingly portraying a wrestler and a struggling man. The interactions between Tatum and Carell are poignant and subtly disturbing, as Carell’s character exploits the psychological weaknesses of Tatum’s Mark Shultz. Though Tatum could be criticized for a lack of emotion, his sparse emotional breakdowns are natural and strong.
Mark Ruffalo also delivers a career-best performance here as Dave Shultz; though his character doesn’t emerge as a true presence until the film’s middle section, he is brilliant as a conflicting persona from Tatum and Carell, and ultimately the center of the film’s tragedy. The supporting players, including Vanessa Redgrave and Sienna Miller, are good, but not memorable and don’t have much of an effect on the plot or film itself. However, it should be known that the performances by Carell, Tatum, and Ruffalo are all some of the year’s best, and worthy of award nominations.
From a technical standpoint, Foxcatcher is rather simple. The absence of score is mostly effective, but the moments with the score are all profound and poignant. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is also brilliant; the use of long shots are particularly effective in the wrestling scenes, and the unique variety of shots do a great job at exploring the phycology of the characters. The use of focus is distracting at points, but the traditional cinematography, usually simple shots, are all strong.
Overall, Foxcatcher is a very interesting, if somber and difficult to watch film. It’s worth watching for the performances alone, particularly Carell’s transformative work, and though it’s definitely not an enjoyable film, it’s a very respectable effort by one of Hollywood’s finest directors. The brilliant performances and stunning directions overcome the flaws, making Foxcatcher a good, though not perfect film. Grade: -A