Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Dueling Critics: Foxcatcher

06:06 January 16, 2015
By: David Vicari, Fritz Esker

Foxcatcher is based on a true story of eccentric millionaire, John du Pont (Steve Carell), who asks Olympic wrestlers, brothers Mark and David Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, respectively), to train at his rural estate. Tragedy ensues.

Fritz: One of the most frustrating things about being a critic is that we're often asked to write fully formed opinions about a film days (sometimes less than a day) after watching it. But the reality is that one of the best ways to evaluate a movie is how it holds up over time. Does it linger in your mind for months or weeks or did you forget about it shortly after seeing it? But in this case, we saw Foxcatcher in mid-October at the New Orleans Film Fest and it's just opening in theaters this month. So we've had about three months to digest it. I still like this film a lot and it has stayed in mind. I remember you weren't as high on it as I was leaving the theater. How do you feel about it now?

David: While I still think it is an okay movie, I do feel I like it a little less from the time I saw it. My main problems are that it felt too emotionally cold, it was repetitious when dealing with the du Pont character, and, most of all, the heavy prosthetic make-up on the three main actors - to make them look more like the actual real-life people they are portraying - was distracting.

Fritz: If the movie hadn't worked for me, I could see the makeup distracting me as it went on, but I thought the movie established a consistent tone of sadness and melancholy that worked for me. I liked the three main actors. Whenever a comic actor transitions into a dramatic role, there's a chance he/she will try too hard to be taken seriously. But here, Carell doesn't have any obvious "Oscar clip" moments.  He underplays effectively, conveying John du Pont as a strange, troubled man, but one whose issues come from sadness and loneliness.

The other part of the film that's stayed with me is the way it subtly enforced the idea that money not only can't buy happiness, but can also seduce people into doing things they otherwise wouldn't do. Neither of these are groundbreaking or new ideas, but just like the performances, the film gets the idea across without underlining it repeatedly. There's not one scene that tells you that du Pont has been isolated and socially stunted because of his wealth. It's something you learn as the film progresses. And Mark Ruffalo's character is suspicious of du Pont from the start, but he swallows those doubts because the money's so good and he wants to provide for his family. I appreciated the way the movie never force fed the audience any of this.

David: I agree with you that the performances are good and Carell doesn't overplay it. And, yes, the film does a good job of having this feeling of dread throughout. But I do think the movie repeated the notion of du Pont's isolation and lack of social skills. For me, du Pont is portrayed as fairly one-note. He is a nut from scene one and stays that way.
I also thought that it was a mistake for the filmmakers to have Tatum's character as the one that the audience is supposed to identify with, for he isn't very likeable or engaging as a protagonist. The focus, I feel, should have been through the eyes of Ruffalo's character.

Fritz: I like the multi-focus approach. Tatum's character's resentment of being in his brother's shadow is what sets it all in motion. If du Pont had gone to the older brother first, he likely would have turned him down. He taps into the younger Schultz's insecurities, which in some ways mirror du Pont's own, both men have a desperate need to make a name for themselves.

Like any 130+ minute film, there probably could be a trim here and there for running time, but I never felt like it needed to "get on with it" like I did at times with other critical darlings this year such as Under the Skin and Inherent Vice.

I understand the character relationships, and I'm not saying the script needed a complete re-write. To me, it would have made more sense to have the Ruffalo character at the forefront.

As for the pacing, I had no problem with it. In fact, it moves like wild fire compared to the two films you mentioned, particularly Inherent Vice which gave me horrible flashbacks of sitting through Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert. But as for Foxcatcher, it's recommended, but I do feel it's flawed and not the Oscar contender that it is being made out to be.

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