Foxcatcher (Sony Pictures Classics, R)

foxcatcher sqIn addition to Carell’s performance, Tatum’s and Ruffalo’s are Oscar-caliber, as well.

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Hot off the festival circuit (Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, New York, our own SLIFF, etc.) comes Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, which you may know as either “the movie people expect Steve Carell to get an Oscar nomination for” or else “the movie where Steve Carell has an ugly prosthetic nose.” It’s based on the true story of Olympic gold medalist brothers Mark and David Schultz, and their joining forces with old money wackjob John du Pont (Carell) to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

Mark (Channing Tatum) is the younger of the two brothers, and despite his international success as a wrestler, he’s hard up for money. Early in the movie, we see him hulking his frame over a tiny bowl of ramen, he lives in a small apartment, and he generally seems willing to work for even tiny amounts of money (as depicted in the film’s opening scene). Further, despite winning a gold medal himself, he’s always lived in the shadow of his older, more-successful-at-life brother David (Mark Ruffalo), who, unlike Dave, has a nice family and seems to be a little more on top of the finances thing. Either way, a lucrative sponsorship out of the blue from du Pont suits both of them pretty well.

Foxcatcher is directed by Bennett Miller, whose last film, 2011’s Moneyball, was also based on a true story in the world of sports. Miller has established himself as one of our best modern directors of actors, and that’s the biggest reason to see Foxcatcher; in addition to Carell’s performance, Tatum’s and Ruffalo’s are Oscar-caliber, as well. That said, I wasn’t as entirely sold on the performances as many other people seem to have been—each of the three main actors has one really good scene (Carell has two: when told by Mark that David “can’t be bought” and when he helps Mark practice a speech in a helicopter; Tatum’s comes when he freaks out in a hotel room; and Ruffalo’s when he’s filming a video tribute to du Pont), but they weren’t as even overall as I would have liked.

Nor was the movie as a whole, for that matter. It’s been a good month ago that I saw the film as I write this, and in the interim, I’ve softened up on it some. Had you asked me sooner after I’d seen it, though, I would have told you I was very disappointed. Though I knew the whole of the story going in, I was irritated with the obvious way the film’s third act is signposted throughout the beginning. Foxcatcher takes way too many easy outs in trying to explain its characters and their motivations—it even trots out the old “his mother is overbearing!” cliché in a particularly unsubtle way.

Though he’s only directed four feature films so far, Miller seems to be an “every other movie” director for me—I liked his 1998 debut The Cruise and Moneyball, and was disappointed by 2005’s Capote and now Foxcatcher. All the same, he’s an interesting director, and you can bet that I’ll be looking forward to his next one. | Pete Timmermann

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