Carell, like never before
With a slew of offerings all competing for Oscar glory, January appears to be more about performances than anything else, and Foxcatcher is certainly a prime example.If nothing else, it will undoubtedly change your opinion about just what comedian Steve Carell is capable of. Carell seemingly sprang out of nowhere just over a decade ago, and, mainly thanks to Judd Apatow, became a household name in the comedy circuit (at least for those who didn’t already know him from SNL). But he’s not a complete stranger to drama, with solid and quite touching dramatic performances delivered in films like Little Miss Sunshine and Dan in Real Life which, whilst having a distinctly witty edge, also have something more to say about them. He’s never quite done anything like Foxcatcher, however, and it pushes him way out of any comfort zone you might expect him to have.The based-on-a-true-story tale is more drama than thriller; a dark study of obsession and simmering psychosis, brewing beneath the surface. It follows multimillionaire philanthropist and wrestling enthusiast John du Pont, who hunts down two Olympic wrestling champion brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz, with a view to getting them to join his private Olympic wrestling team. To begin with, he only secures Mark, however, and although he initially proves himself to be something of a mentor and even friend to the brother, something is clearly not right.
Yet another film which is done an immense disservice by its bullet-point trailer, which threatens to ruin the tale before it even gets started, Foxcatcher is slow-burning through and through and, for many, that will be something of a turn-off. It’s imperative to watch the film for its performances, and not perpetually wait for the more dramatic landmark moments from the trailer to kick in, as you will otherwise run the risk of feeling a little underwhelmed by the build-up. Indeed, it’s actually all about the build-up, and arguably, whilst the players all commit to their respective roles and frequently astound with the performances that they deliver, the narrative progression is distinctly understated.
Slow-burning and performance-based, it plays the long game, investing you in an authentic character study.
Carell is a wonder in the commanding role of obsessive mentor John du Pont, bringing us dark and menacing undertones simmering beneath the surface of a supposedly devout benefactor. Channing Tatum continues a run of surprisingly strong performances, as the first brother drawn into Team Foxcatcher; he’s long left behind the days where you dismissed him as just another Jai Courtney. And Mark Ruffalo puts in strong work as the older brother who initially escapes the web only to be drawn in at a later stage, when du Pont’s more obsessive behaviour starts to kick in. It’s worth watching for the performances of these three alone.
Unfortunately it is far from a perfect beast as, beyond these performances, you find it difficult to acknowledge exactly what the film has to say, whether about wrestling, obsession or psychosis. The film, as a character study, feels like it is committed to playing out history (although, allegedly, it doesn’t even get that right) and allowing those who don’t know the story of du Pont and the Schultz brothers to live it – and be shocked by it – for the first time. But it doesn’t actually offer any particular insight into what made these people tick. Sure, there are more than subtle hints of malaise when it comes to du Pont’s persistently unimpressed mother, and Carell, as noted, manages to perfectly project the aura of a disturbed mind who hides, thinly veiled, behind the gates of an inherited kingdom, but it feels like icing on the cake of what could be a far more committed psychological study.
It’ll certainly be interesting to see how many people come out of Foxcatcher praising the characterisations as much as the performances; praising the storytelling as much as the story. Intriguing and perplexing in almost equal measure, it’s Carell who can hold his head high at the end of this dark character study, and who stands out beyond the other merits of the unpleasant journey you've just undertaken.
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