Bennett Miller's follow up to his debut feature Moneyball is a film that is being pushed for awards consideration. Foxcatcher is a slow burn that documents the descent into madness from its characters. While the film is being considered for awards, namely Oscars, it stands to be a very uninteresting and sluggish film that builds and builds to an uneasy climax.
It follows Mark Schultz, (Channing Tatum) an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling who is struggling to find his own identity as an athlete. He's perennially in the shadow of his older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), who is just as decorated as an athlete, but is smarter and more committed to building a family than his younger brother. Mark is drifting and malleable, which makes him an easy mark for John Eleuthère du Pont (Steve Carell), of the du Pont Family, a multi-millionaire who has an invested interesting in building a top-notch USA Wrestling Team at his Pennsylvania estate, Foxcatcher. John is disturbed and socially awkward, but as the movie slowly unfolds, we soon realize that John's problems run deeper and deeper.
OK. There are a few things going on in Foxcatcher; Mark's strained relationship with his older brother Dave, John and Mark's strange relationship that goes from admiration to that of a loyal dog to absolute madness, and John and Mark's separate mental and social decline. While the acting is top notch with Steve Carell leading the charge as John du Pont, the film lacks with any sort of actual engagement with the audience. Foxcatcher is dull and boring, as it seems Bennett Miller is relaying on great performances to raise the film and not photograph anything of interest. The film, itself, doesn't really say much that's not telegraphed in the frame. It's pretty surface level with an incongruence tone that bounces back and forth of serious thriller to laughable embarrassment.
The film's running time is 130 minutes long, while only the latter half offers anything engaging or engrossing to the events on the screen. While the film is heightened, there's no mistaking all the wonderful acting in the film. If it weren't for Carrell, Tatum, and Ruffalo, who are all really good, Foxcatcher would be lost.
I really don't want to make light how good the film's trio actually are in Foxcatcher. Steve Carrell is at his best as a creepy and mentally ill John Eleuthère du Pont. I've never seen Channing Tatum tackle quite a role like this, while managing to do away with the on-screen charisma that he's known for. And, of course, Mark Ruffalo is always good, as his performance is definitely a step up from the terrible Begin Again from earlier this year. In fact, I'd be willing to say the praise of the film should go to the casting director rather than the actual director, who mistakes tone with content. There is a sharp divide with almost everything presented in Foxcatcher that had me scratching my head.
It's really hard to put together what this film is trying to achieve. Is it a satire on America and wealth? Is it a look at two brothers struggling to keep their relationship together under heavy competition? Or is it how wealth masks flaws and mental problems? The answer is all of the above, while also none of the above. It struggles with nuance and subtly, but also manages to show you everything that is on its mind. It seems that what is on Bennett Miller's mind is only skin deep and never brings up the harsh realities of mental illness. It boils down to John's relationship with his doubting mother, who looks down on him for having an interest in a "small" sport like wrestling and not in something regal like horses. And drugs... but not enough drugs to suggest that it's a big problem.
Overall, I won't be surprised if Foxcatcher continues to get the awards attention that it's currently getting at the moment. It's cast does a great job elevating the film to something more than watchable. I just really don't think there's much there. It's crudely shot and put together and it seems as if it doesn't have a point-of-view to convey. Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum are the real reasons to watch Foxcatcher, aside for that it's not much of a catch.