I went this week to the advance screening of Foxcatcher, a biopic about Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz’s (Channing Tatum) grooming by multi-millionaire Jon DuPont (Steve Carrell) in attempt to come out of his brother Dave’s (Mark Ruffalo) shadow.
The film was directed and co-produced by Bennett Miller and very oddly at that. Here’s what I noticed about it:
Too much imagery. The film had a cornucopia of themes and motifs throughout, and whilst the intentions were good, the implementation was clumsy and excessive.
The motifs of Horses and Foxes were present to the point where you just want to tell them, “yes I get the idea,” and the enormous strand of American patriotism, which may be a shot of pride in the arms of Americans everywhere, could make people in other countries (this observer anyway) just cringe. there seemed to be a message, though, that people need to get a sense of order and pride back, give credit where credit is due or there could be nasty consequences, both socially and (as the film revealed) individually.
The parenthood angle was one that I enjoyed as you could sense a type of over-reliance on others from Mark, an urgency to fix that from Jon, an understanding and ability to help from Dave and the indifference of Jon’s mother(Vanessa Redgrave).
It was very hard to determine what characters were good and bad and evil but there wasn’t really any of that. You felt that all of the people were inherently good – just, troubled. you got frustrated and confused at their behavior at times. In that regard they were successful at getting you involved in the plot but after a while the film just made you lose interest.
The film flowed very strangely. It felt like it was 3 or 4 hours long in the third quarter and you start to wonder then it will wind up. I, unfamiliar with the background story beforehand was taken aback when Dave Schultz was…
…killed at the end. it seemed to come out of the blue. The tension building slacked off for an hour before that so I physically jumped.
Still, I think there are large portions of the film where you can just drop off.
Another flaw with the character introduction is that I was quite confused as to who the main character was. There seemed to be a duel between Carrell and Tatum at points for the lead role. They seemed to want to get every subplot on for so long that the main plot was made unclear.
I still don’t know whether or not it’s Mark Schultz’s career and fulfillment of his potential, John DuPont’s stormy needy relationship with his mother, the brotherly relationship and give/take between Mark and Dave Schultz or the father/son relationship between DuPont and Mark.
The film juggles a lot, but I think it took on an awful lot. Ineffective direction would be my interpretation of this.
Continuing along this strand, the lack of effective screen techniques or shots, was a major drawback. Director Bennett Miller clearly enjoyed the far away shot getting the whole room and the small collection of people in them, but the film is chock-full of the same shot. The camera angle I enjoyed most was used very sparingly in the film, looking through Schultz’s eyes on the mat eyeing up the opposition, and in the cinema it really put you in the room with them.
Body language and pacing of words, especially by Steve Carrell was done well enough. The acting in the film was relatively good from Carrell when you see what he’s coming from. Tatum’s role, however, doesn’t really challenge his skill set as much as people are making it out to. He plays a lug with feelings that hare hard to express. Where have we seen that before?
The film was a difficult watch, and I think from the viewer, it needs a bit of persistence and maybe a bit of background reading beforehand. Knowing what’s in store is a major thing to keep you engaged in the plot and I didn’t do that. It failed to engage me.
Weak direction was a problem for me, but the acting was solid, so as a standalone film I’ll give it a 6.5 out of 10.
FOXCATCHER hits Irish screens on 09 January 2015.
If you want to find out more about the life of mark schultz, you can buy his new 2014 book ‘Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold’ on Amazon from November 2014