Movie Review: Foxcatcher

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A team of wrestling brothers are head-hunted by a billionaire who dreams of sponsoring the US Olympic wrestling team.

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Bennett Miller, 2014

Since winning an Olympic gold medal, the life of wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) has been an underwhelming one. Constantly living under the shadow of his patient, supportive older brother David (Mark Ruffalo), the reticent Mark’s life is a repetitive routine of training, eating, and sleeping. One day he is contacted by John du Pont (Steve Carell), whose family is the richest in America. Du Pont offers to be Mark’s patron, paying him a retainer to live on du Pont’s property, Foxcatcher Farms, and train a team of wrestlers who will bring fame and glory to the ageing du Pont and to America. He gets Mark to try to convince David to come and live on the farm as well, but David’s dedication to his wife (Sienna Miller) and daughters holds him back. Du Pont becomes obsessed with having both brothers and getting his gold, taking up wrestling himself, becoming abusive towards the adoring Mark, and slowly becoming more and more unhinged.

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It is astonishing to me that people like this movie. No, people LOVE this movie. Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo are nominated for Oscars for this movie. This movie won Best Director at Cannes. These things are astonishing to me because I don’t think I’ve seen a movie I’ve actively hated more than Foxcatcher since…well, since Riddick, which I hated for very different reasons. Foxcatcher was bad. It was as mannered, stolid, and lumbering as its lead. I like Channing Tatum, but he was so awkward in this film. All three of the main actors seemed to be doing impressions of the characters they were playing, rather than acting; I wondered for a solid half-hour whether this was actually supposed to be a really dark, awkward comedy and the rest of us just weren’t in on the joke. I still wonder if maybe it was actually a prank they’re pulling on paying audiences, while they laugh uproariously at people taking their “funny” antics seriously. Steve Carell was doing a Saturday Night Live-esque caricature of John du Pont, all ticks and long pauses and funny walks. Oh, the funny walks. Channing Tatum doesn’t seem to be able to bend his legs, and Mark Ruffalo does a hand-hovering thing that reminded me of the Thermians in Galaxy Quest. He is the least offensive of the three, probably because he’s the best actor in the bunch playing the nicest character, though his devotion to his brother borders on the strange at time. I hated the movie a little less when he was on screen, though it wasn’t much respite.

The story, such as it is, unfolds at a glacial pace, the direction lingering on almost static shots with only diegetic sound (ie. no score) for minutes at a time. There’s no real sense of trajectory, no sense of anything building apart from during a twenty-minute stretch of this interminable movie wherein the tensions between Mark and du Pont rise and boil over. Until that moment there’s a strange Behind the Candelabra vibe to the relationship, to the point where I really thought they were having sex during Mark’s cocaine-fuelled “frosted tips of despair” phase. For people who know the end of this story, the one-sided tension between David and du Pont doesn’t seem to rise so much as come out of nowhere. That final scene almost seems to come from another movie, if this one had made any sense until that moment. Also, I’d like to talk about wrestling for a moment, if I may. Wrestling is inherently funny. It’s men cuddling in unitards¬†until they start hurting each other, like toddlers who haven’t gotten control of their emotions yet. This is the image Foxcatcher chooses to lead with. I was laughing before the first scene was over, watching Channing Tatum grope a training dummy with arms. There’s a weird, uncomfortable intensity in walking the line between affection and violence in this movie, and I’d think it was intentional if it weren’t for the fact that it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Nothing goes anywhere. It’s a long, slow drudge through the lives of miserable, awful people being miserable and awful, and I was stressed the whole time I watched it. God, I hated this movie.

Foxcatcher on IMDb

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