Foxcatcher

Based on a true story that you may or may not have ever even heard about, Foxcatcher is well-acted, slow-paced movie about Olympic wrestlers. Well, it sort of is. It revolves around two wrestlers and a rich man who takes them on as a coach, and follows them around for a couple of years before coming to a pretty shocking conclusion. Like I said, it’s based on a true story, but I won’t spoil it anyway, since the shock value alone of a late scene is about the only excitement that Foxcatcher provides.

Our lead is Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), the gold medal-winning wrestler of the 1984 Olympic Games. His brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), has also won a gold medal. They train together, although they’re very different people. Mark is a loner who doesn’t seem particularly happy, while Dave has a family and seems to love life. The goal of both men is to win the 1987 Worlds, and then win a gold medal at the ’88 Olympics. Their strategy has thus far been successful, given their previous wins. Still, they train in a small gym and with minimal equipment. It could be better.

Out of the blue, millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell), calls up Mark. He wants Mark to come life on the Foxcatcher Farm, train in a private gym, and have access to all of the support he needs. He wants Dave to come, too, but Dave doesn’t want to uproot his family. Fine. So, Mark heads there and begins training for the Worlds, and eventually for the Olympics. Dave eventually comes around, too, and everything seems to be going perfectly.

You might think you know where the story is heading, assuming of course that you don’t know the true story, and also are unaware that happy-go-lucky films with no conflict or tension don’t get awards considerations all that often. Things do start to go wrong, as Mark starts to hate living there, and Mr. du Pont starts to come a little unbalanced. By the point in the film when he brings a gun into the gym, only to shoot it into the ceiling in order to get the attention of his wrestlers, you can tell there might be something wrong with him.

In reality, du Pont suffered from paranoid-schizophrenia. In the film, that’s never mentioned. He’s just a little weird, for the most part, until a scene near the end comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really seem to fit his character. It works as shock value, but not as insight. Foxcatcher had the potential to really dig deep into the situation that led to, well, what happens, but instead it just sort of shows us at face value the events preceding it, but at a surface level.

It also never really allows us time for important things to sink in, and this is in spite of a very deliberate pace. A big thing happens, and then we just move on, as if it was any other event. The big “shocking” scene near the end is immediately followed by one other scene, and then the movie ends. No time to pause and reflect; we just keep on trucking. It’s like that the whole movie, even though there is a lot of sitting around and thinking or watching the wrestlers train; these scenes just don’t often happen after anything major.

Where Foxcatcher succeeds is in its acting. Channing Tatum as our lead reminds us that he can, if he wants, be a strong dramatic actor. He’s not the one people will be remembering, though. That will be Steve Carell, who wears a prosthetic nose and is, at times, unrecognizable as John du Pont. Carell is great, even though the film could have made better use of him. We don’t really understand why he does what he does, although what he does is worth watching. Mark Ruffalo is good but underutilized as the third wheel.

Foxcatcher is a slow-paced drama based on real-life events that doesn’t provide much more than surface-level information. It doesn’t provide much time for reflection after big events, yet gives us countless scenes of people sitting around or training when we don’t need that time of reflection. It’s not particularly emotionally involving, and while it has some shock value, that’s all that it is in the end. It has great acting and deserves accolades for that, but otherwise it’s a slow, uninformative, and not all that interesting drama.

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