Making a great movie is never easy. Multiple factors — from the acting to the directing to the editing to the soundtrack — have to come together to form a cohesive, memorable whole. Most films have figured out some of those elements, but only a precious few have put them all together.
Foxcatcher is an Oscar hopeful that connects well in certain areas but falls flat where it matters most. Channing Tatum plays Mark Schultz, a wrestler who won a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics. Stifled in shadow of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo), he jumps at an offer from philanthropist John du Pont (Steve Carell) to head up a new training team.
Steve Carell may get an Oscar nomination for his role, but if he does, it will be in spite of the ho-hum film in which he does it.
Directed by Bennett Miller (Moneyball, Capote), the film tracks Mark’s progress leading up to the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. The story portrays Mark as an antisocial, sullen and reclusive, someone who only finds momentary joy in winning at wrestling. This stands in direct opposition to his brother, who seems to live a happy and secure life with a wife and two children.
Du Pont, meanwhile, is a supremely odd character with family issues of his own. Living off his family’s fortune, he’s desperate to show his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) that he can be successful on his own. When challenges come his way, his only means of influence is his money, a situation he both relishes and detests.
Aside from the inbuilt countdown to the Olympics, the film has little forward momentum. Miller and writers E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman fail to provide a compelling argument why this story needed to be told on the big screen.
Mostly what we get are a succession of rote training sequences, interspersed with fleeting ominous feelings. Psychological troubles can be interesting, but they need to be accompanied by sequences that dramatize the situation way more than this film does.
The film relies heavily on the acting, especially that of Carell, who gives perhaps his darkest performance while buried underneath layers of prosthetics. Although Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo embody the personas of their respective characters well, it’s difficult to get too worked up about them when the story is so boring.
Carell may wind up nabbing an Oscar nomination for his role, but if he does, it will be in spite of the ho-hum film in which he does it. Foxcatcher wants to be a prestige film, but like its main characters, it can never quite prove its worth.