Foxcatcher (2014)

Me and Orson Welles (74)

Foxcatcher, a tense psychological thriller based on a true story, has been floating the mind of Bennett Miller since 2007, and finally with the help of young mega-producer Megan Ellison, got the project made in 2012. It was then delayed from its original 2013 to allow the film to premiere at Cannes, where it got a standing ovation. Foxcatcher‘s journey from idea to film is one just as fascinating, tense and strange as the film itself. While it may not be everyone’s tastes, it is an interesting specimen of a film.

As a huge comedy fan, I love it when a comedian “goes dark” and tackles a more serious role. Steve Carell has flirted with some more dramatic work, such as Little Miss Sunshine and The Way Way Back, but both of those films were quirky and lighthearted. Foxcatcher is Carell’s very first straight dramatic role, and I have to say, I had my doubts about him originally, but he did do what the hype promised – he truly disappeared into the role. He didn’t have a massive physical transformation – basically a fake nose – but the way he carried himself, the way he spoke and the manner of which he showed him thoughts and emotions causes me to constantly forgot that I was watching Steve Carell. It is a very dark performance from an otherwise very gentle, funny actor, and that in itself can cause quite a problem, because Carell was so good at disappearing into the role, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at Carell the same way again. I hope Carell continues to experiment with other genres and types of characters, because he seems to have the ability to change himself into a character fully, which used to be my biggest complaint of his acting style.

Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo are two very sought-after actors nowadays, and here they play Mark and Dave Schultz respectively, a pair of brothers who also happen to be Olympic gold medal-winners for wrestling. Mark has been living in his brother’s shadow for as long as they have been wrestling, and even though he doesn’t show it, he does harbor feelings of resentment towards Mark. Tatum takes the prime lead role of Dave Schultz, and I have to say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of his performance. I am one of those rare defenders of Channing Tatum’s talents, because I have seen his charisma and acting talents shine through on several occasions. Here, however, he played the role of Dave exactly how he was meant to be played – intense, angry and a man who acts on emotion rather than logic. Tatum gives a very divisive performance, because while the character may not be likable or endearing at all, he delivers exactly what the role entailed. Ruffalo, on the other hand, has a smaller, but still important, role as Dave Schultz, the humble, level-headed man who balances his time between wrestling and family. Dave might very well be the only likable character in the film, and unfortunately he ends up in the worst position out of everybody.

Bennett Miller has this extraordinary ability to bring out so much in his actors – he took character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and made him one of the most talented and beloved leading men when he directed him in Capote. He made Jonah Hill, an actor primarily known for mindless teen comedies, a serious actor who has two Academy Award nominations on his resume. He has done the same with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum here. Carell bears no resemblance to any previous role in a comedy, and Tatum undergoes an even more crucial transformation – playing a character with no charm or redeeming qualities, he himself gets rid of the stigma that he is a bad actor. Both actors, along with the always consistent Ruffalo, give great performances that are of course greatly boosted by the wonderful direction by Bennett Miller and the complex script by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman.

Foxcatcher is a film about sport, so make no mistake. I am usually the first person to groan about sport-themed movies, because most of them have the exact same formula – “underdog meets an inspiring new coach and go from losers to triumphant winners”. Foxcatcher is completely different – this is more like “underdog meets insane and psychotic coach who bullies him and the underdog goes from champion to bigger champion to angry psychopath”. It is an incredibly atmospheric, dark film. It is probably the darkest of the year, because a tone like Foxcatcher is difficult to match, and this and Gone Girl are battling it out for most psychologically scarring film of 2014.

I really liked Foxcatcher. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum give very divisive performance that some will love, others will hate. However, one can’t deny the intense transformation both of them went through – both physically and as actors. It is an impressive titan of a film, and it is incredibly dark and terrifying. It is moody and filled with angst, and I haven’t fully made my mind up about it, but I do know it is absolutely unforgettable.

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