Sunday, January 11, 2015

"Foxcatcher" Review - The Compelling Drama Is Matched Perfectly By Award Worthy Performances Across The Board


This year's biggest Oscar bait award goes to writer/director Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher. That doesn't mean it is a bad film, quite the contrary actually. Unlike last years blatant and astoundingly boring Oscar contender American Hustle (which was also based on a true story), Foxcatcher at least has an interesting story to tell and whose actors deserve the universal praise they have been receiving. However, even with those positive points in its corner, things aren't all roses and wine with this piece of bait. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats: 
Projector Type: Digital 2D          
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime: 2 hr 10 min
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Release Date: November 14, 2014

Biases:  
Loves: Witnessing actors perform outside their comfort zone
Likes: Steve Carrell, Mark Ruffalo, Channing Tatum
Neutral:  Telling a 90 minute story in 130 minutes.
Hates: Wrestling of any kind
A crime drama?: Someone needs to rethink how they categorize their film genres

John and Mark's friendship is a very complex one with many hidden layers.
In the late 1980's, philanthropist and millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carrell) brought on recent Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to head up his very own wrestling team for the upcoming Olympic games in Seoul, Korea at his Foxcatcher estate farm. During their time working together John and Mark bond very quickly, but John's insistence for bringing Mark's older and much more respected brother Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) into the fold and taking over the team's coaching responsibilities forces a wedge between them that has disastrous consequences for everyone

Let's start with those positive points, the first being the surprising cast that Miller attracted to the project. While it isn't too surprising to see Mark Ruffalo playing hardcore drama with such films like The Kids Are Alright, Shutter Island and Zodiac under his belt, this is far out of the comfort zone for both Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum who are each coming from completely different cinematic backgrounds. What is even more stunning than their apparent need to step out of their respective comfort zones (comedy for Carrell and romance/action for Tatum) is their seamless transformation into these troubled yet fascinating personalities.

Dave and Mark's relationship isn't any less complex.
They aren't the first actors to ever attempt to break free of roles that have defined them to step into a new one that they will hopefully define instead. But rarely do we get two actors doing it at the same time, in the same film and who both do equally astounding work. Now one can argue that Tatum doesn't do much more than act either enthusiastic, confused or indifferent through most of the film, but that would be over simplifying a lot of the subtle work he does here. People often say that a good actor acts but a great actor reacts, and that is mostly certainly true here.

On the other end of the spectrum is Steve Carrell who is barely recognizable under the layers of make up he is forced to wear. Watching Carrell's miraculous transformation from man of comedy into the eccentric and enigmatic John du Pont was reminiscent of what Mike Meyers attempted over 15 years ago with his dramatic turn (also completely unrecognizable) in the film 54. But Carrell's performance is leaps and bounds more successful than Meyer's failed experiment which is in large part due to the character of du Pont who was quite a magnificently strange fellow.

John's motivations remain a mystery even after the end credits roll.
Without a doubt the most intriguing aspect of Foxcatcher is the story it weaves, and Miller weaves it quite well. If you go into the film not knowing its eventual outcome (which is the obvious recommended way if you have the opportunity) there is no doubt that you will find yourself curious as to where it is all leading. Miller creates this ominous tone that pervades over the entire film and until the film's final moments you will feel a quiet restlessness that is just impossible to shake off. But once its final destination is revealed, once you get over the shock of it all you will likely begin to wonder why it took so long to get there.

Here lies the one and only problem with the film however, which is its excessive length. It makes perfect sense to build up the relationship between Mark and John before Dave gets involved, but there comes a point where the audience understands quite well that there is something off about John, something that just doesn't feel right. But when you realize it Miller seems intent on hammering that point home by adding in all these superfluous scenes with John being creepy or otherwise suspicious. It becomes even more infuriating that all that extra time was spent on developing this mystery behind a character that unfortunately due to the reality of the actual person, never gets explained. Luckily both the acting and story are enough to overcome that oversight because at the very least you are getting more of a good thing which in the case of Foxcatcher, it is a very good thing.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

It's difficult to say if the film is worthy of winning a Best Picture nomination, but this reviewer would certainly not argue against it (winning it on the other hand....). With three strong performances from three strong actors, two of which are completely out of their element, and an engaging true story backing it all up it is almost impossible not to recommend the film. In case you need it spelled out for you though, go see it.

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