Certain to get noticed for its trio of electrifying leading performances, Foxcatcher is an unnerving and stylish true life tragedy. But it still feels a bit off thanks to director Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote) overcompensating where he doesn’t need to. It wants overblown foreboding and restrained austerity at the same time, leading to a compelling, but structurally uneven final result.
Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) has just come back from the 1984 Olympics and he isn’t in the best state of mind. Struggling financially and feeling ill at ease with his more talented older brother and trainer Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he takes an offer from wealthy wrestling enthusiast John du Pont (Steve Carell) to train at his home, full of state of the art training equipment, a team of eager wrestlers, and various amenities. But with neither Mark nor John being of sound mind, it’s clear something ominous is about to happen.
The lion’s share of accolades here will go to Carell’s thin lipped, creepily low key work here, and rightfully so because he’s a revelation. But pay close attention to Tatum’s even more intriguing volatility and Ruffalo’s warmth and you’ll see they’re both outperforming the more talked about performance. Together, they’re unstoppable. Any scene in the second half that involves all three characters in the same place at the same time bristles with almost unbearable tension. The only downside to their performances are the prosthetic make-up applied to Tatum and Carell. They’re good enough on their own, and the trickery is more distracting than helpful
But it’s the strength of the cast and the story that makes Miller’s choice to direct the film as an austere, slow burn thriller is a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s about 20 minutes too long, belabouring points already made and well established. The direction has a clearly different emphasis that the script, with Miller more focused on the film’s endgame than the more obvious character beats. This is a story about egos, glory, and brotherhood that has been dully framed as a brooding mystery. If you know what actually happened at Foxcatcher ranch, it feels a bit pat to watch where it ultimately heads in so slow of a fashion. If you don’t know where it’s headed, a key scene hinted at in the film’s trailer will be the point where much of the suspense will be killed.
It’s certainly worthwhile and effective where it needs to be, but there was potential for something much greater. If Miller had stuck more closely to the human aspect of the story – something he did so well with his two previous films – instead of creating an aesthetic, it would have been a lot more powerful. As it stands, it’s great, but it’s also trying way too hard to leave a maximum impression.