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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Foxcatcher

I'm on holiday so this s going to be short but I didn't want to let Foxcatcher come and go without leaving my own two cents on the matter.


Foxcatcher tells the true story of an eccentric millionaire, John du Pont and his relationship with a pair of Olympic Champion Wrestling brothers as he enlists them to help bring the American team, of which he has become chief benefactor, to the top of the 1988 Seoul games. This is not, however, the kind of feel-good, inspirational sports drama that these sorts of things tend to be but a very dark character study of two very unlikeable men who are joined together by perhaps more than their professional aspirations.

Unfortunately, while I remain a fan of both of director Bennett Miller's previous cinematic outings, Moneyball and Capote, I unfortunately don't share the love that most critics seem to have for Foxcatcher. Part of the problem I have with it is what I like to call "Raging Bull syndrome" in that however much I admire the film's technical prowess, the film's hateful characters are so horrible that they detract from and overshadow everything that the film gets right.

Obviously, Foxcatcher is a far cry from the admitted technical brilliance of Raging Bull - it's a very good piece of cinema, rather than an instant classic - but it still has much to recommend about it, which is why it's so ultimately disappointing that I hated it as much as I did. It's very atmospheric, it's well shot, it features a very decent script and top notch performances from everyone, but most especially Channing Tatum and Steve Carell who both do brilliantly playing against... if not type then at least stereotype. They've both shown their dark side before but these two usually immensely likable actors really push themselves in their roles here.

I remain utterly unconvinced that Carell's work here is some sort of major revelation, though, as he's always been really good in virtually everything he's done, being both far more subtle and versatile than most people give him credit for. He's great as the seriously creepy John du Pont but he was no less great as Michael Scott in The Office. Also, most crucially, in his past roles he was never stuck having to compete with a truly horrendous prosthetic nose, which in this case lends a feel of the artificial to what is otherwise a very convincing performance.

The film's biggest failing though, is in its characters. I don't think it's just a subjective blind spot that prevents me from appreciating these characters more because the film never really justifies their awfulness by making them, say, interesting, enigmatic or sympathetic. They're not completely one-note but they're not really well drawn enough to make spending over two hours in their company at all worth it. This is further compounded by the fact that though the film's deliberate pacing is laudable as a way to build tension - which it does, at least to a point, its molasses-in-July slowness makes the company of these two men all the more unbearable.

It is a big awards contender and it does feel like something of a major film so the question still remains whether it's still worth checking out. Honestly, from where I'm sitting it probably isn't but if you have a strong stomach for hateful characters in well-made films then you might as well give it a shot. Otherwise, might I suggest sticking with Capote for a Miller biopic where its central, true-life figure is smackable, yes, but he's also genuinely interesting - as is the film itself. It might be worth it for the performances, I suppose, but even there, you don't have to look too far to find good to great performances from its three male leads.

And, no, the fact that there was no much-needed female perspective in this film whatsoever didn't exactly help matters either.




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