I admired director Bennett Miller’s first two movies, “Capote” and “Moneyball,” but I feel “Foxcatcher” is one of the more overpraised films of 2014. It’s a deeply odd exploration of a famous murder of an Olympic athlete by the scion of a super-wealthy family, an exercise in mood that eventually gets lost in its own dirge-like fog.
Steve Carell is virtually unrecognizable as John DuPont of the chemical fortune clan, who uses his riches to host the men’s Olympic wrestling team on his palatial estate, Foxcatcher Farms, during the late 1980s. He brings in Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a somewhat dim but big-hearted gold medal winner, to head things up.
DuPont is the coach of the team, at least in a titular sense, though he actually knows very little about wrestling. He treats Mark as a combination underling / surrogate friend, someone he likes to keep around to make him feel more valuable and less lonely.
With his prosthetic nose and feral fake teeth, Carell resembles a stunted bird of prey, who knows great things are expected of him, and resents it.
Mark Ruffalo is terrific as Mark’s more accomplished brother David, whom DuPont also tries to woo into the fold. With his ambling gait and cocked head, Ruffalo seems like a great, strong, sensitive ape who knows both how to fight and how to nurture with equal aplomb.
The story is essentially the intersecting trajectories of these three men, with Mark initially bonding to DuPont as a manipulative father figure — with an unspoken undertone of sexual attraction. But later the lines of loyalty shift, with tragic results.
Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman do a wonderful job of setting up the characters and evoking a disquieting sense of dread. But they don’t really find any place to go with it, and the film ends up replaying the same emotional chords over and over again. It’s not helped by Tatum’s stilted acting juxtaposed against two top-flight talents.
Watch “Foxcatcher” for Ruffalo and Carell’s masterful performances. Just don’t expect the film as a whole to win gold.
Extra features are pretty disappointing, and are the same for DVD and Blu-ray editions. Both come with a handful of deleted scenes, and a single making-of featurette, “The Story of Foxcatcher.”
Film: 3.5 Yaps
Extras: 2.5 Yaps