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Foxcatcher (2014)

| January 21, 2015 | 0 Comments

If there is a singular chilling image that the movies produced in 2014 it belongs to Steve Carrell. As billionaire John du Pont (of the famous du Ponts) he stands in the front room of his family’s 800-acre estate on an overcast day and stares blankly out the window. The cogs in John’s brain are ticking away although we are never privy to what he’s actually thinking. All we’re sure of is that something wicked this way comes.

Carrell is a revelation in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, a problematic drama that doesn’t succeed as a movie but none-the-less succeeds at giving us a great dramatic performance by a man who has always been one of our most dependable comedians. Here taking a dead serious turn, he plays a man wading hip-deep in his own self-doubt, whose need to rise above the crippling disappointments wrought on him by her stern mother led to him down a path of self-destruction.

Foxcatcher is based on a true story that, I’ll admit, I hadn’t heard. Du Pont’s madness stemmed from a crushing insecurity and a seething ambition to prove himself despite a lack of any real talent. Straining to use his deep pockets to put something important in motion, he set up a training facility at his family’s estate where he could coach the U.S. Olympic wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, never mind the fact that he had no experience whatsoever.

His first task is to reach out for the services of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who recently won a gold medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles. Mark is also a man swimming in loneliness, living a solitary existence, he seems to have no friends outside of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) with whom he shares the Olympic Gold. The two not only grew up together, but raised one another after their parents died. Yet, while Mark leads a quiet, lonely life, Dave is happy with a wife and two beautiful children. When du Pont offers Mark and Dave a position on the team, Mark jumps at the chance but David is reluctant.

What follows is a bizarre journey of seduction and manipulation that eventually leads to tragedy. Du Pont is a man who lives by, and for, the belief that his money can buy anything. When he’s told that he can’t have something, we sense his blood boiling. He doesn’t turn to rage but to snaky manipulative measures designed to get his way. He finds that one brother is easy to get to, but the other not so much.

All of this works well at the outside. The performances by the three leads are great, and there’s an effective supporting role for Vanessa Redgrave as John’s disapproving mother. But the movie itself just doesn’t work. It’s extremely dry dramatically, and much of the movie is made up of long, slow passages in which nothing is happening and nothing is being said. The silence works well at establishing mood but after a while it just becomes kind of a yawn.

Director Bennett Miller who has previously made Capote and Moneyball, both wonderful movies about men seething with ambition, here seems to drown his movie in atmosphere. Some of it works, but most of the time you want to get out of the slow pace and get to the meat of the story. There is a great deal in this story that is not being said, and we are asked to fill in the gaps. That’s fine, except that this approach leaves us at a distance when we should be getting some sort of insight, or at least a foothold.

Despite its problems, you’re still left with that brilliant performance by Steve Carrell. He plays du Pont as a man who bathes in his own sense of pathological entitlement.  It’s not just a comedian trying to play serious.  He works at this character.  You only with the movie were as effective.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, Recent