Foxcatcher is directed by Bennet Miller, and like Moneyball, it is based on a true story. It is dark, and feels occultist at times, as two Olympic Wrestling Champions joins up with a multimillionaire sponsor by the name of John E. du Pont and his team at The Foxcatcher Farm.
It is with a heavy heart I admit to the fact that Foxcatcher is my introduction to Bennet Miller’s filmography. I’ve seen bits and pieces of Capote – Philip Seymour Hoffman is my all-time favorite actor – and it was impossible to avoid the praise that surrounded Moneyball back in 2011. Even so, these two movies have alluded me for some time. My one takeaway from the short time I’ve spent with Capote is Miller’s directorial hand when it comes to his actors. Philip Seymour Hoffman is of course recognisable in his role, but he manages to breath life into Truman Capote with incredible precision and dedication. In Foxcatcher, Miller does this again, as Steve Carell literally disappears into the troubled mind of John E. du Pont. The same can be said about Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as the brothers who joins up with Mr. du Pont. Each and every actor in Foxcatcher gets the chance to flex a few muscles we haven’t seen from them before, and for the most part, it is a delight.
As always, I’ll say very little about the story. Seeing as this is based on true events you can either read up on it in the history books, or watch the movie blind – as is always suggested, especially with a story like this. As the press screening ended, I heard someone say; “The fun thing about theses “based on a true story movies” is, you can’t make this shit up”. While I initially disagreed, the more I’ve let the story sink in and digest in my mind, I’ve come to understand his viewpoint. Not because this is a full blown original story. You won’t be left in awe as the credits roll, but the way in which the story unfolds couldn’t have been orchestrated without the true story as a foundation. The reason is; John E. du Pont is psychologically broken. His characteristics stretch far and wide, and is impossible to read, both his motivations and deep-rooted issues. He thinks himself a patriot, ornithologist, philatelist and philanthropist, but most counterarguments to these categorisations would be accepted. His psychological issues are more difficult to pinpoint, and the movie is vague from beginning to end. It his however possible to spy, and speculate with, a repressed sexuality, mother/father issues and maybe more on the nose – the dangers of power and wealth.
To play such a character is no easy task, and while I have a few gripes with it, Steve Carell gives an incredible performance. Like the rest of the movie, it is withheld and subtle. He is always looming over somebody. Creeping – as uncharismatic a description as that is – around each corner. Hidden behind layers of makeup and prosthetics, Mr. Carell’s features, are almost non-existent, which works both as a favour and a disservice for the movie. It forces him to stay in character, but it leaves little nuance to each scene. Sadly the same can be said about Channing Tatum, as the tantrum-having younger brother in the movie. As he looms around like a mindless ape (as described by du Pont in the movie), we are given few glimpses of real humanity. The anger is present, but only physical – smashing a mirror with his forehead, or destroying a hotel-room – and it becomes difficult to read. It fits really well with the tone of the movie, and is without a doubt the intention of both Miller and the actors, so in a way it’s wrong to critique it, but nonetheless, it also makes for a less enjoyable movie in my opinion. Luckily Mark Ruffalo gets to play on a higher level of nuance, and does this well. As his character gets more and more intertwined with the people around him, the movie gains a lot. It rises from a respectable study of mood and depression, to a more human and relatable story.
While I have a few issues with the movie, I can’t help but close this review with adoring respect. It is uncomfortable, thanks to the actors, but also the cinematography – which finds a balance between restrained and minimalistic I didn’t even know existed – and the sound design which I believe owe a lot to David Fincher and his movies. I believe this to be a movie that will grow with each new viewing – which kinda underlines the problems with early reviews (the movie premiers in Norway this week) – but also works as a foundation for reflection and a possible in-depth look at the movie in the future. For now I’ll leave you with this; See Foxcatcher, it will stay with you for a while.