Wednesday, March 18, 2015

"Foxcatcher" Doesn't Measure Up to Bennett Miller's Previous Output

Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum shine, but Foxcatcher is an airless effort.
With Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball) has crafted yet another pensively restrained, immaculately composed and expertly acted examination of unbridled obsession and determination and held it at arms length. However, this time out, the distanced and disciplined approach that worked so well in the director's earlier films make Foxcatcher feel kind of inert and airless.

Foxcatcher focuses on the relationship between Olympic wrestling brothers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) and John Du Pont (Steve Carrell), the creepy millionaire who served as their benefactor. Both Mark and Dave are former Olympic champs, but Mark lives firmly in the shadow of his older brother, which makes him ideal prey for the resentful and self-important Du Pont, a man who knows a thing or two about living in the shadows of family (in his case, his mother).

There's not much point in saying any more about the film's plot. A tragedy involving these men attained headline-grabbing true crime infamy, but the particulars of that incident are opaque, poorly defined, and relegated to the film's final moments. Foxcatcher is much more concerned with ruminating on its long list of themes, including isolation and repression, class disparity and subjugation, unchecked entitlement and compromised integrity, and, if all that isn't enough, the fractured male psyche and distorted American values. There's so much going on here, and yet it feels like almost nothing happens.

The film is technically accomplished, and the actors all do nice work. Ruffalo, who has made a career of breathing life and dimensionality into thinly written parts, is especially affecting as the warm-hearted, at-ease-with-himself Dave, and Tatum continues to impress with the emotional brute routine. Both actors bring an ape-like physicality to their roles, while doing a good job of communicating an innate brotherly bond.

Meanwhile, Carrell is buried under prosthetics and definitely a world away from his typical roles. He's pretty solid throughout, and great in isolated moments, but his acting calls a lot of attention to itself and not in a good way. His approach stands in stark contrast to his more natural costars, and the fake nose threatens to overpower his performance. I'd say there's more good than bad in the portrayal, but there's definitely something off-key about it.

Foxcatcher is a major comedown for Miller, which maybe isn't fair given just how good Capote and Moneyball were, but the film isn't some major catastrophe. It's certainly worth catching -- Ruffalo's performance alone is worth the time, and there is a ton of other stuff to admire about the film besides. The thing just feels a little empty to me, and ultimately this is one of those films that I'm bummed I didn't like more. B-