Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for some Drug Use and a scene of Violence
Directed by: Bennett Miller
Written by: E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
Starring: Channing Tatum, Steve Carell, Mark Ruffalo, Vanessa Redgrave & Sienna Miller
Audiences were actually supposed to get FOXCATCHER in late 2013, but the studio delayed the film’s release by a full year due to an oversaturated sea of potential Oscar contenders. This is a case where the delay was actually a very positive thing because FOXCATCHER deserves every accolade that it could possibly receive. Based on the fascinating true story of the Schultz brothers and John du Pont, this chilling film slowly crept under my skin and left me shaken as the end credits began to roll. Those expecting a mere sports drama (a few people in my theater seemed surprised at how the dark events played out) better do some research before viewing this movie as it is the furthest thing from a feel-good film about Olympic wrestling than you could ever imagine.
Mark Schultz won a gold medal during the 1984 Olympics, but constantly finds himself in the shadow of his older brother who won a gold medal in the very same Olympics. While Dave Schultz gets offered coaching positions and guest speaker opportunities, Mark has become a frustrated guy tired of being left unrecognized for the exact same accomplishment as his sibling. This is when John du Pont enters Mark’s life. John is one of the wealthiest men in the USA and has taken a keen interest in wrestling. He hires Mark to coach a team that’s destined for the Olympics, as well as provides excellent living conditions and forms a real friendship (seeming almost like a father figure). Not all is well with du Pont though. He’s socially awkward and becomes increasingly mentally unhinged. This puts Mark, Dave, and du Pont on a collision course of emotions that has devastating consequences that no one could have foreseen.
FOXCATCHER is an appropriately depressing movie that stays mostly true to the real events. Though Mark Schultz has criticized his portrayal, it seems that Bennett Miller and the screenwriters nailed the hot-headed nature that seems to have been woven into this complex man. There’s a slow quiet intensity that creeps across the screen and into the crowd. This is aided by a haunting soundtrack and the story being kept on a semi-small scale. There are scenes of the team wrestling at the Olympics, but most of the story stays within the confines of “Foxcatcher Farm.” This also lends to a thick, brooding atmosphere of gloom that makes every scene that much more uncomfortable.
Before I dive into the main attraction of the cast, I’d like to point out that both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo completely sold me in their performances. Mark Schultz’s extreme actions to stand apart from his brother make complete sense when watching the film. Channing Tatum demonstrates a highly impressive set of dramatic acting skills that he really hasn’t fully been given an opportunity to flex. This isn’t to say that Dave Schultz comes off as a condescending older brother, because it’s quite the opposite. Mark Ruffalo shows a ton of emotion and honest humanity in the older Schultz brother who happened to receive more fame, but loved his younger sibling more than anyone could imagine. The dynamic between Tatum and Ruffalo is simply fantastic. Now onto the obvious, Steve Carrell is scary in the role of du Pont. Going through an intensive make-up transformation, Carrell is the spitting image of the real du Pont and has plenty of talent to sell this socially inept, mentally disturbed person. In one scene, he might seem innocent and charming (mainly near the beginning), but he becomes terrifying in his erratic mood swings that get darker and more intense throughout.
This actually brings me to my one complaint with this film. There are jumps in the final third that seem like Miller rushed through them in interest of a shorter running time (still slightly over two hours). However, the movie really could have benefitted from being about 30-40 minutes longer and a dramatic epic that was sure to further devastate the emotions of any viewer into a powdery dust. The notorious concluding event (look it up if you want to know more before venturing into this film) is covered in the space of less than 10 minutes, when the actual timeline of that event spanned across two full days. To make matters more frustrating, everything closes off with an underwhelming epilogue that wasn’t transitioned in a convincing way. FOXCATCHER’s conclusion mainly suffers from the problem of “If you’re going to tell this true story, then tell it completely right.”
Though it really could have benefitted from 30-40 more minutes in the final third, FOXCATCHER is a fantastically unnerving film. It’s boosted by amazing performances from all three leads, a highly interesting story, a haunting soundtrack, and thick atmosphere hovering over every frame. Don’t go in expecting to leave with an uplifted spirit as this film covers a harrowing true story. If you think you can handle the emotional devastation and are the slightest bit interested in this film (be it for the performances, how the actual events translate on the screen, etc.), FOXCATCHER comes highly recommended!