[Film Review] Foxcatcher – Why Filmmaking Matters

Written by Brandon Sodhi.

Foxcatcher is the latest movie directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball), starring Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, and in an interesting turn, Steve Carell. This film will likely be remembered as the “serious Steve Carell movie,” and for good reason. This film is dark, violent, and sexual; not exactly the usual adjectives one would use to describe the former Office star. And yet, I sometimes found myself thinking of The Office during Foxcatcher.

Not to take away from Carell’s great performance, but there were at least a few moments during this film that relied on the same awkward and/or physical humor that an American comedy series might use to get laughs. An awkward conversation between Carell and Tatum; a celebration where Carell’s character Du Pont becomes “drunk” and begins to “wrestle” one of the athletes he is coaching; a conversation between Du Pont and his mother about trains as if Du Pont is still a child; Du Pont trying to both impress and rebel against his mother by taking over a coaching session and being as physical with another man as possible. These scenes in the film all come off as awkward and pathetic, and this is in large part to the “filmmaking” I referenced in the title of this review. This film is dimly lit with lots of gray. The music is somber and ominous, not unlike a Trent Reznor score or Johann Johansson’s score from last year’s Prisoners. The cinematography uses close-ups to underscore the anger and confusion on the characters’ faces.

In contrast, all you’d have to do to make the celebration scene an outright “funny” scene is lighten the room a bit, remove any of Rob Simonsen’s music, use a mockumentary camera style, add a shot of Jim Halpert staring right into the camera, and voila: you now have an awkward Michael-Scott-being-inadvertently-sexual-with-another-man scene ready for an episode of The Office where Michael decides he has to become a wrestler to win a gold medal. The physical aspect of filmmaking, not the writing or the story, makes all the difference here.

Speaking of the writing, the consensus here is that Foxcatcher is another “underbelly of the American dream” story. And I can definitely understand why: Du Pont’s speeches about making America great again, his obsession with guns and physicality and war, all create a backdrop of the worst possible version of American values. But I see this movie as less universal, as I enjoyed it strictly as a character study. As the film goes on, Du Pont abandons all his delusions about greatness and winning gold. He’s much more interested in snorting coke and hanging out with his new buddies. It makes you wonder if he ever really believed the non-sense he spoke in the first place, or if he was always just using it as a means to an end. Maybe it was all just to entice Mark Schultz, a man who Du Pont saw a lot of himself in. They shared a certain loneliness and anxiety surrounding about being overshadowed by different members of their families. And when he loses his new “friend,” the object of his repressed sexual desires, the real “hope” he had been looking for, his new toy, Du Pont breaks. He lashes out and targets one person with the rage he had felt towards an entire society that, despite his extreme privilege, had withheld happiness from him. “Do you have a problem with me?” A question Du Pont asks Dave Schultz. A question he asks his mother. A question he asks the world.

Foxcatcher is a film you come to see for Steve Carell, but you stay for Channing Tatum. His performance is all in his physicality, wrought with anger, anxiety, addiction, and defeat. This could be a stepping stone for Tatum’s career. The film is a downward spiral that goes from bad to worse. It’s beautiful, awkward, bleak, and worth a watch.

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