If this is about wrestling, where are all the tables, ladders, and chairs?
After winning gold at the 1984 Olympic Games, pro wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) doesn’t seem to have much going on in his life. He sort of just lugs around his house, eats Ramen like a barbarian, and continuously trains with his older, much more well-known brother, David (Mark Ruffalo). That all changes though once Mark gets a call from a very wealthy man by the name of John du Pont (Steve Carell) who would not only like to meet Mark, but go so far as to train with him and a few others in preparation for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Mark finally feels like he’s wanted and appreciated for his talents, so therefore, he and du Pont strike up something of a friendship, which often times, sometimes dives into seriously dark places. That’s fine though, so long so as Mark and John are together and happy. But it all changes once again when David comes around to help coach the team and this is when things start to get a bit tense for all parties involved. All up until, of course, they reach their tragic breaking point.
So, if none of you out there have ever heard of any of these real-life people, then have no fear, I won’t spoil the outcome or the intricacies of this story. Instead, I’ll just beat around the bush as much as possible, but I can assure, it doesn’t matter either way. I’ve researched this story long and hard many times throughout my life that even though I knew exactly what happened to each person by the end of this story, I still didn’t care and was constantly on-edge just about the whole time. And also, I just stopped caring and decided to pay attention to what’s on the screen in front of me because, quite frankly, nearly everything about this movie deserves your time and undivided attention.
Most of that’s because the cast is so damn stellar (more on that in a little while), but it’s also because director Bennette Miller knows how to choreograph his movie in such a perfect way, that every scene, every lingering shot, every piece of info that’s slightly thrown at us for us to catch, is worth thinking about and adding up to what the whole final product means. Because honestly, when you’re watching Foxcatcher, you’re not watching a director tell you what his movie’s about; rather, a director who is laying bits and pieces of it out on a large table, gives you a fork and a knife, and lets you just pick up whatever it is you want from it. These are the kind of subtle pieces that hardly ever get made nowadays, and even if they do, they’re hardly seen by more than a few hundred or so people that aren’t cool, got-there-first hipsters, which is why for about the whole two hours of it, I couldn’t stop paying attention.
Once again, this is mostly because of Miller’s direction. Some may say it’s slow, but from my perspective, it seemed deliberate in a way as to get us in the right mood for what was to eventually come of these characters, and the resolution of their times together. It’s not a pretty story here, folks, and if you can’t handle that, then go check out Frozen or something!
But, like I originally promised, I won’t dive into what this story ends up being about, or even how it ends; mostly, I’ll just talk about what makes it work and that’s pretty much everybody involved. I’ve talked plenty about Miller here and I still don’t think I’ve fully hit the nail on the head with it: It’s a very subdued, but artfully crafted direction. Miller doesn’t tell us everything we need to know up front and hardly ever over-does it with the development; he just gives us glimpses of these people, their interactions together, and how it makes them who they are. Would I have liked a little bit more clarification on a few ideas presented in this movie? Of course, but I mostly feel like the reason Miller held back a bit from diving deeper and deeper into these character’s relationships with one another, is not to just offend the main producer of this movie (who also happens to be Mark Schultz), but because it would have nearly been too much to show us, the audience. Keeping it hidden in whispers and emotional stares was perfect enough for Miller to do, and it’s what I found most satisfying.
And if any of you out there are reading this, I think you’ll have a clear idea of what I’m speaking about and won’t go into any more detail about. Because, honestly, what’s suggested is pretty creepy, but then again, so is the rest of this movie.
Which also brings up another point made about so many movies, which is, “Is it enjoyable?”.
Well, my answer to that fine, fine question would be, “No, not really. But it doesn’t really need to be either.” Grim, chilly character-dramas such as this don’t need to throw us a bone here and there to excite things – all it needs to do, and do well, is present us with enough meat in its story and its characters to keep us gripped from the beginning, all the way to the end. If it can do that, then I’m fine with there being no explosions, car-chases, or warfare. Would I like it? Sure, why not. But this isn’t that type of movie and it’s why I think I loved it so much, and haven’t been able to get it out my noggin since the last time I saw it, some few weeks ago.
Anyway though, I know I’ve been avoiding them for quite some time, but I might as well get it out of the way now and say that I hope the trio of leads in this movie get at least a nomination for each of their own, respective pieces of work they put in here. If they win, that’s even better, but honestly, judging by how rigged the Academy is, a nomination would suffice, especially considering how strange these casting-choices are.
First of all, I know having Mark Ruffalo play the honest, earnest, and down-to-Earth dude isn’t a huge surprise to see in a movie, but he’s not the one I’m speaking of. It’s actually Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in two very dark, dramatic, and nearly humorless roles that really shocked the hell out of me. Not just by how effective they were in the roles, but because I hardly saw them as their celebrity, and more of just them as who they were playing. Which, yes, I know may not be saying much, but when you have somebody as recognizable as Tatum is, hardly ever cracking a smile and keeping a straight-face for nearly the whole duration of a film, it’s hard to see it is a “true, bonafide piece of acting”, and more of “an actor trying way too hard to be taken seriously”.
That could have easily been the case here, but because both Tatum and Carell are amazing here, they sink into their roles and hardly ever make it apparent to your mind that these two are most known for their abilities to make a crowd laugh or happy, rather than scared and miserable. Though it’s definitely easier for Carell to disappear into his role as du Pont, what with the stellar nose-job the make-up department’s given him, it still doesn’t matter much because the guy is downright terrifying in this role. We’ve definitely seen Carell do dramatic before, but never as dark and as eerie as it is done so here, and he absolutely commands your attention every time, but without ever begging or pleading for it. The camera just simply lingers on his eyes, the way he tilts his head, sinks into his chairs, and even by the way he awkwardly carries himself from room-to-room, seeming like he’s trying to fit in with the rest of the macho-group around him, but is actually so ill-equipped in doing so, that he’s practically another fish-out-of-water. If anything, this is where Carell gets most of his laughs from, but only because he’s so good in this role that the creepiest things du Pont does over the course of the movie, somehow takes on a ridiculous-view and you can’t help but laugh.
Same goes for Tatum playing the big, muscular lug that is Mark Schultz. In fact, it’s quite a fun role for Tatum, considering that we know he can practically do no wrong now, but him playing a full-and-out meathead, who sometimes borders on the verge of being autistic, is something different and even strange. However, he makes it work so well by just using his physical-prowess and allowing us to feel sorry for this person; we know that he’s clearly vulnerable and wanting to make a name for himself, so it’s obvious that the first guy who comes his way with arms wide open, he’ll fall right into with and hail as his best friend. It’s actually quite sad, really, but what makes it all the more disturbing is how good Carell and Tatum are together.
Sometimes, the friendship gets so strange, you wonder just what the hell exactly this movie is trying to get across about it, but for the most part, the movie’s just basically showing us two actors at the top of their games, and absolutely getting into their character’s mind-set, without any frills attached. It’s wonderful to see these two act together on-screen, but it’s even better to see both of them constantly growing as acting powerhouses in their own rights and it keeps me excited and optimistic for what’s next to come of them in the future.
As for Ruffalo, like I said before, he’s perfect at what he does as David Schultz – he’s told to play this really normal, mellowed-out guy and it’s effective. Which isn’t just because Ruffalo’s great in the role (though he totally is), but because he’s the only sense of normalcy we actually get in this whole piece. With Mark Schultz, you get this battered, awkward, and self-conscious muscle-bound freak that doesn’t really know what to do or say in any situation that comes his way that doesn’t involve wrestling, and with John du Pont, you get this grown up, spoiled, rich kid who just wants to prove to his disapproving mom that he can do something with his life and make her proud. Those two combined are as wacky as you can get, so to get some sort of voice of reason at all, is an absolute blessing. To get it from none other than Mark Ruffalo himself, one of our finest actors working today, it’s a treasure to behold.
Put them altogether, you got three amazing performances in a movie that deserved them all.
Consensus: Dark, chilly, atmospheric, and downright disturbing, Foxcatcher may not quite be the pick-me-up one might expect to see during the holidays, but if you want to witness some of the best performances of the year, then it’s definitely worth a watch and plenty of thinking-space.
8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!