By Sara Fabien
Showing at the Olympia Film Society Feb. 6 through 11
“Foxcatcher” is an intelligent drama based on a real murder case, in which a wealthy patron hired two wrestler brothers, tried to seduce and control one of them, and ended up murdering the other. It is a movie about America, about the hunger and dissatisfaction of patriotic values, but what makes it so compelling is that you don’t realize it at first. Directed by Bennett Miller (“Capote,” “Moneyball”), the film is too subtle—and, frankly, too strange—to directly make a simple grand statement. And yet, when you replay it in your head later, that’s the only conclusion you can draw: that it gets at the complicated, unresolved nature of American life.
“Foxcatcher” takes us back to the years leading up to the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul—a time in which former gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) was still living in the shadow of his more famous gold medal brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Things change when billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) approaches Mark with a proposition. He wants to push American wrestling to Olympic greatness, and in doing so, inspire the country. This rich, well-connected man believes Mark is the man who can lead America to victory.
“Foxcatcher” is a chilly film, both in tone and texture. The color palette is dominated by muted blues and sweatsuit grays. The music is downbeat. The mood is discomfiting. Director Bennett Miller is known for making films that take meditative looks into the characters at the center of historical events, and “Foxcatcher” fits in step with that filmmaking motif. While the meditative atmosphere is effective at evoking analytical interest in the subjects, it’s often too still, too quiet to hold that interest for as long as the scene requires. The film is concerned with the emotional narrative of three men stuck in a bromance triangle, but like the direction, it challenges the audience to infer much of what is being depicted beneath the surface. That becomes a real problem when the character narrative fractures its focus in the middle and end of the fim. At first, Foxcatcher intently focuses on Mark. In the middle, John begins to take center stage. And by the end, Dave has pushed to the forefront.
By the time the movie reaches its pivotal climax, we are so distanced from the characters that it’s hard to get an emotional payoff out of the narrative. The climax actually proves to be a an oddly impersonal and rushed affair, with glaring omissions that leave us totally disconnected from any kind of feeling, just a sense of what the takeaway may be. The story structure in “Foxcatcher” isn’t certain. Whether you know how DuPont’s story ends, the third-act payoff of Miller’s film arrives suddenly and is over quickly, so much so that it feels somewhat anti-climactic. I suspect it also will leave many viewers, myself included, headed to the nearest computer or firing up their smartphone to find out what happened next. Still, if a film motivates a viewer to any sort of action (even if it’s something as simple as googling the story behind the film) then it’s doing something right. “Foxcatcher” isn’t a film many viewers will clamor to rewatch. It’s too chilly a film for that. At the same time, it’s one that will suck them in, and it will hold them while they’re there.
For their part, the three leading men are all excellent in their roles, as well as in their interactions with each other. While in the throes of training, Mark Schultz is more barbaric ape than man. Channing Tatum gives a performance that is full of intensity, physical action and few words, as he continues to surprise in both how effective and versatile a performer he is. Steve Carell also manages to earn the movie’s dramatic climax, as he layers du Pont well enough along the way that his eventual downfall seems carefully telegraphed when given second glance. It’s one of the best performances of Carell’s career.
In the end, “Foxcatcher” is an interesting character study that struggles to convey insightful conclusions about its characters.With fantastic performances, and two of them from unlikely candidates Tatum and Carell, “Foxcatcher” proves to be a film worth seeing. But like many movie memoirs, the complexities of life (in this case, three lives) prove too intricate to weave together a cohesive point, but gives the audience a glimpse into the strange history of wrestling and its virtuous cost.