Friday, December 19

REVIEW: Foxcatcher

Directed by Bennett Miller
2014 Drama
2 hours 14 minutes
From Sony Pictures

Steve Carell
Channing Tatum
Mark Ruffalo
Sienna Miller
Vanessa Redgrave
Anthony Michael Hall

Boy, I hate to jump all over Sony Pictures when they're down but Foxcatcher simply disappointed me.  I had been looking forward to it since I first heard it was going to be a movie.  I got energized by the casting of the three male leads. I followed tidbits of news along the way.  I was ready and in my seat for the first matinee on the first day.  Bummer.

SPOILER ALERTS will be throughout this review so be warned. 

I heard about the John du Pont murder case on the news when it occurred in 1996 and remember being riveted by a People Magazine article as well.  How could du Pont from one of America's wealthiest families kill a man in cold blood on du Pont's own property?

The murdered man, Dave Schultz, was employed as a wrestling coach by du Pont at his Foxcatcher Farms in Pennsylvania, a complex that had been mainly involved with thoroughbred horses.  du Pont expanded it to include his interest in becoming a wrestling sponsor, opening up a training facility on the property.  He was a rabid patriot who fixated on winning Olympic gold in wrestling as a way to honor the good old U.S. of A. and stoke his ego.

To this end he comes across a young wrestler, Mark Schultz, looking to make a name for himself and earn the big bucks in his sport.  Schultz is easily talked into moving into a house on the du Pont property and doing all he can to become a star athlete and make his mentor proud.  Before long du Pont has introduced Schultz to cocaine and bizarre behavior.

The wealthy man himself gets into training Schultz and at one point we are shown a scene, albeit briefly, with du Pont lying on top of Schultz's backside on the floor, on a wrestling mat.  There was no movement as there would be in a wrestling maneuver.  Just as I was wrapping my brain around the scene (is this what I think?), it is over.  Furthermore, it's never mentioned.  I don't recall there being talk of du Pont being gay in the movie.  Was this just some creative writing?  If so, how about fleshing it out a bit more?

At this point, what fawning Schultz did with du Pont ended and the wrestler became sullen, disagreeable and destructive.  Why?  Then du Pont slaps Schultz in front of other wrestlers and calls him an ungrateful ape.  Things go quickly downhill.

By now du Pont sees that some of his dreams and goals may not come to fruition and he makes Mark's brother, Dave, a financial offer he can't refuse to come to Foxcatcher Farms and work as a coach for his brother and the others.  I will guess that Mark was not happy Dave was joining up at du Pont's invitation because Mark himself could not talk his brother into it.  But it is a guess; the script certainly provided no clues.

Eventually Dave sees du Pont as the strange character he is but tells his brother that he has decided to stay with du Pont because of the financial rewards.  There is a scene we can see but not hear as du Pont and Dave have a chat about du Pont wanting to reconnect with Mark despite Mark's decision to bail out completely.

The next thing we know, du Pont (and his right-hand man) are driving up Dave's snowy driveway where Dave is fiddling with items in his car.  Dave approaches du Pont in a friendly manner, du Pont says something like do you have a problem with me and pumps three bullets into him.  And the film ends with the usual written followup about what happened to those in the (based on a) true story.

My disillusionment here, as is often the case when a movie leaves me empty, is with the writing.  Cowriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman explain very little.  Ok, poor little rich boy du Pont suffered because his mother paid an employee a little more to have the employee's son be John's friend.  That's it?  That's all the character motivation we're going to get?  It's pretty clear that du Pont was paranoid, has poor social skills and is deeply troubled but why?  Didn't anyone find it important enough to discover this character's motivation for such odd behavior?  As an audience we are expected to accept the huge jumps in what character motivation there is and the constant awkward transitions.

All three of the leads seem awash in a sea of uncertainty and distance and gloom.  No one talks much at all. It must have been the thinnest script they ever received.  Here's a heads-up to the writers about writing about boring people... don't bore your audience to death.  Suggest boring.  Don't hit me over the bloody head with it. 

The director, Bennett (Capote, Moneyball) Miller certainly didn't do much to offset the tedium.  Too much attention was paid to staring, walking, pouring drinks and such and the fact that there was precious little use of theme music made the boredom seem all the more stark and real.  Additionally, the pauses between scenes were interminable.  The screen would remain black for so long one expected the credits to roll.  Really, guys?

Two friends called me on the way home from our little art house theater.  How did you like it?  Was the acting good?  I certainly didn't like it as much as I expected, I responded.  And the acting?  The characters are so dull and lifeless that the film didn't give anyone a chance to act.

Carell has gotten some acclaim, but I'm not sure why.  My guess is because a comedic actor has taken on a dramatic role, a dark one.  We heard this kind of gushing when screw-loose Jim Carrey took on The Truman Show and everyone fell all over themselves with praise.  Comedy actors are actors.  You do some comedy, you do some drama.  We know they can do it.  Carell elected to play du Pont as a stroke victim or at least someone who was in a perpetual fog.  His face was all scrunched up, he got Nicole Kidman's nose from The Hours and now we're told this is great acting?

Poor Channing Tatum.  He probably thought this was his opportunity to break out of mainly silly movies.  Well, ok, this one isn't silly but neither does it represent a leap to great work.  Perhaps we're to believe that wrestlers are simply apes... ungrateful or otherwise. 

I do like Mark Ruffalo (although only for about the last three years)
and have never found him to be exactly Mr. Personality, but here he is the most exciting thing about the film.

Why Vanessa Redgrave, as the du Pont matriarch, did this one is simply beyond me.  Any lesser actress could have played the character who has just a couple of scenes and I swear doesn't say more than 25 words.  And Sienna Miller (whom I can't wait to see in American Sniper) had a thankless, pointless part as Ruffalo's wife, also brief.

They all probably thought they were going to be in something really good.  It just didn't work out that way.  I think the outlook is dim for awards or heavy attendance.

One thing I did quite like was the attention put into showcasing the lives of the 1%.  There were impressive homes, properties, sets and attitudes, all photographed wonderfully by Greig Fraser. 

Ok, I'm off now to find some excitement.  I am certainly looking to stop suffering from buyer's remorse.

The Directors

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with you - what a huge disappointment. I love all the actors involved but what a boring, slow movie. I felt bad for Tatum when both his costars were nominated for Oscars but he wasn't--but then i was glad nobody won any for this pretentious and ponderous "ripped from the headlines" miss of a film...