A Review by: Jeff Turner
Dir: Bennett Miller
Written by: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Produced by: Anna Purina Pictures, Likely Story, Media Rights Capital.
Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller.
I love Steve Carell, and I want him to do well. I’ve been aware of the existence of his first major dramatic effort, FOXCATCHER, for some time now (the film was initially slated to be a 2013 release) and after two years of waiting, I didn’t know how to approach the film going in. I came out with mixed feelings. There is some strong acting in the picture, and the film is very well made, with excellent cinematography by one Greg Fraser. The film looks dark, gritty, and intense. However I found moments where Carell seemed to be overacting, and there were moments where FOXCATCHER seemed, for lack of a better word, pretentious.
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited over to Pennsylvania by eccentric billionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell). Mark is mesmerized by this man, and accepts his offer to join the Foxcatcher wrestling team. DuPont steadily becomes weirder and weirder, it is revealed that he has a negative fixation with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave, not given enough to do) and her fondness of horses. DuPont preys on Mark’s obsession with being the best, dragging him down further and further. Eventually Mark’s brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Sienna Miller) are invited to DuPont’s estate as well.
Ruffalo and Tatum are strong. Tatum especially, this easily became the best role I’ve seen him in. He brings an intensity that nobody would have expected from Channing Tatum even now. Ruffalo is easy to like, doing the kind of reliable work people expect from him. He is a terrific pariah.
Carell has his moments where his DuPont is genuinely creepy. Unfortunately I fear that he may not have been the best choice for the role. He has several moments in the film where he veers into camp territory, he oversells the material. It got me thinking of how Bennett Miller’s previous muse of CAPOTE and MONEYBALL, Philip Seymour Hoffman would have delivered the material, had he been cast and had he not passed away. Carell is not awful in the film, but for all his effort his performance comes out lacking. I acknowledge that DuPont was a bizarre man, even moreso than what Carell portrayed on screen, but I’ve seen some videos that Dupont appears in and while Carell’s work is not entirely off, it became apparent to me that his build, accent, and looks just were not working for him.
FOXCATCHER is also trying to impose more thematic depth than it seems to have. This is a movie that wants to be about the American dream, a meditation on where we are, a film about family, a commentary on the wealthiest among us, and it just comes out as a basic thriller and biopic.
I cannot soberly tell people to not see this movie. There is enough to like to where it’s worth recommending. Rufallo and Tatum are strong, Carell is really not that bad, and Sienna Miller proves that, along with AMERICAN SNIPER, that she will be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. I acknowledge that my view of it may change in later years. As it stands now, FOXCATCHER is a matinee, or a rental.