Academy Award 2015 Frontrunner: "Foxcatcher" (Directing, Writing, Makeup, Lead/Supporting Actor)
Bennett Miller: The Director Of Moneyball and Capote Strikes Back!
Bennett Miller, director of this film and both 2011's much-praised baseball statistics drama "Moneyball" and 2005's universally lauded and star-making "Capote" (Best Actor Oscar - Philip Seymour Hoffman), seems to be on one of the greatest directing winning streaks in recent memory. Perhaps second to only Paul Thomas Anderson ("Boogie Nights," "Punch Drunk Love," his Upton Sinclair adaptation "There Will Be Blood" and his Thomas Pynchon adaptation in 2014's "Inherent Vice"), Miller has had quite a remarkable decade as he's proven to be very decisive in choosing projects and was able to mine noteworthy performances (yes, even you Jonah Hill) from every actor he's worked with.
"Foxcatcher" the title itself, refers to the Olympic Team name that coach and later murderous millionaire John Du Pont bestowed upon his wrestling squad. Foxes, with their uncanny sense of smell and athletic flexibility are able to target game in no time. This veiled reference and John's obsession with winning run parallel to each other and serve as some of the most interesting psychological examinations ever put to film. The film beckons this question: In the quest for ultimate fame and recognition, by what end is one person willing to go? It is a theme and a suggestion that permeates throughout the film time and time again. While constantly revisited, the movie doesn't hit you over the head so much as it deals with it subtly but carefully. Steve Carrell's unlikely towering presence for a man as stout as he is renders all of the other characters as petrified deer in the headlights. It is truly something to behold and Carrell really knocks it out of the park.
Mark Ruffalo, for his brief but notable role as Channing Tatum's elder brother also makes you take notice. The interplay between them is dynamic and Ruffalo's character serves as the guardian angel to Tatum. We witness this whenever Tatum goes off the deep end and becomes raw and emotional. It is always Ruffalo who steps in and coaxes his younger brother out of turmoil and advises him professionally and personally the best way he can. Du Pont takes note of this and tries to spin it to his advantage with mixed results. If there is anything to say about Ruffalo's David Schultz it is that he never lacked conviction and his intentions to help out his sibling seem to be coming from the purest place imaginable. It is only when the $ signs start flashing before his eyes do we see that change in his character due to shifting motivations. David Schultz isn't played for psychological depth in the film because of Du Pont's and Mark's characterizations more than max out their mileage in that department.
Bennett Miller's direction takes much of the same approach that his earlier films did only this time it feels more like a standard biopic. The narrative through line of the film hardly ever shifts except when the three actors are busy chewing scenery. It is in these moments that the film is both static and dynamic and some of the overall directorial weaknesses start to become apparent. Not to say that the film is boring by any stretch, but some scenes don't punctuate like they ought to. For at least the first 2 acts, momentum is maintained but toward the finale certain elements become muddled. The film isn't notably graphic either, thankfully, and instead replaces that with unsettling tension between the three. Parts of the film, the wrestling scenes, echo Clint Eastwood's 2004 film "Million Dollar Baby" and Darren Aronofsky's 2008 Mickey Rourke starrer "The Wrestler." Deliberate inspiration or not, "Foxcatcher" shows us a raw character study that really does grab you.
I can't totally recommend this film for everyone but chances are if you enjoyed Miller's previous works you will dig this film as well. While this one is certainly not in the same league as "Capote" it does place Miller as one of those directors to watch out for in the coming years.