From its real life roots to its prosthetic noses Foxcatcher is a bizarre experience. By all accounts it is well constructed technically, and features gorgeously composed cinematography; yet it is this radical bizarre nature (or perhaps Bennett Miller’s at-arms-length direction) that make the film compelling for reasons perhaps unintentional. The team-up of a large-nosed eccentric multi-millionaire and simple minded wrestling champion, played by Steve Carell and Channing Tatum respectively, sounds farcical. But hey, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Bennett Miller crafts Foxcatcher as a decidedly somber affair. Channing Tatum plays a less-than-genius young wrestler, sporting make-up that gives him the appearance of a baboon, no less, and Steve Carell’s prosthetic nose destroys even more scenery than his performance. Nonetheless, Miller plays it straight, seeing no comedic potential from the situation and opting for a methodical, cold, and overt look at isolation, the American Dream, and many other “big ideas,” using this whacky story as a basis.
Despite Miller’s best intentions several moments of humor slip through the cracks. Carell certainly gives a commanding performance, but he threatens to tear the film around him apart in every frame, moving, acting, and speaking with a purposeful weirdness, his enormous nose tipped up at all times, giving him the appearance of a bird. At every corner Bennett’s presence is felt, and for a lesser director it would break immersion entirely, but in a way it helps add to the bizarreness on display.
Much of this bizarreness stems from the script, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman. Adding to Carell’s off-time mid sentence pauses as du Pont, the screenplay feels intentionally choppy. Even Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), clearly the most “normal” of the core characters, has odd dialogue. Ruffalo and Tatum’s conversations, although brothers, are often broken up by spontaneous wrestling maneuvers and practice. This simultaneously highlights the deep isolation and sadness that Mark Schultz and du Pont feel. While Mark has his brother to hold him and wrestle with him, du Pont only has his money, his mother’s shadow, and what appears to be a crippling mental illness.
I must applaud Bennett Miller for his craftsmanship. Together with cinematographer Greig Fraser he has created a film full of palpable atmosphere, effective weight, gravitas, and astounding imagery. At times evoking David Fincher with his clinical, meticulous coldness, Miller’s Foxcatcher certainly aims high, and contains several impacting and powerful scenes. Ultimately, though, Miller’s methodical pacing and transparent direction, together with bizarre and awkward screenplay, kept me from fully investing. Carell and Tatum must be commended for their work and effort, but their performances often felt protruding, directed, and crafted. Mark Ruffalo’s quieter performance as the older brother Dave is more organic, more human, and superior to the punchier roles of Foxcatcher‘s stars. Those looking for good acting, superb technicality, and a good film need look no further; those searching for effortless greatness can give this a pass. There’s enormous, commendable effort on display here, from all the major players, but that’s just the problem – it shows.