Review: FOXCATCHER (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: FOXCATCHER (2014)

A trio of great performances -- Channing Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo -- are at the top of their games in this flawed but quietly devastating psychological drama.

From his critically-acclaimed debut in 2005's CAPOTE that won actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (recently died at the age of 46 due to acute mixed drug intoxication) an Oscar for Best Actor, to a surprisingly fascinating sports movie that focuses on the inner workings of the baseball team management in 2011's MONEYBALL, director Bennett Miller has a knack for turning non-fiction bestsellers into intriguing awards-worthy motion pictures. He scores again with FOXCATCHER, another sports-related movie adapted from a non-fiction bestseller. Already debuted at the recent Cannes Film Festival to largely positive reviews, FOXCATCHER was nominated for the coveted Palme d'Or (lost to Nuri Bilge Ceylan's WINTER SLEEP) but won Bennett Miller for Best Director award.


Based on a true story, FOXCATCHER centres on Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a fading wrestler who used to be a 1984 Olympic gold medalist in Los Angeles. His glorious day is long over and now, he's been living a mundane life both personally and professionally. His older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), in the meantime, is a fellow wrestling champion who has been building a better life raising a happy family with his wife (Sienna Miller) and two kids, while working steadily as a coach. Then one day, Mark receives a surprise invitation from John E. du Pont (Steve Carell), a fabulously wealthy ornithologist, philatelist and philosopher, to move to the Foxcatcher Farm at the du Pont family estate in Pennsylvania. Apparently, John wants to sponsor Mark in hope to bring the gold medal back to America once again for the upcoming 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Working with cinematographer Greig Fraser, Bennett Miller has successfully delivered a deeply atmospheric visual palette in a cinéma vérité style. Once again after MONEYBALL, Miller knows well how to craft an unconventional sports movie with a difference. The wrestling setting is more of a backdrop, but even so, it was well-staged and beautifully shot with clinical precision. The screenplay, written by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, is largely subtle, especially the way they explore the psychological aspect of the main characters (particularly Tatum's Mark Schultz and Carell's John E. du Pont) that works uniquely in a thriller-like territory.

With a well-built physique that Channing Tatum has successfully achieved during his six-month intensive training prior to filming, he certainly looks the part as a professional wrestler. His physically-demanding performance is also put to good use during some of the wrestling sequences. Apart from his physicality, Tatum is emotionally riveting in his most accomplished dramatic performance to date as Mark Schultz. Mark Ruffalo is equally commendable with a remarkably solid performance as the older brother and coach, Dave. Vanessa Redgrave, who appears as John's elder mother for ten minutes or so, shows up in a memorable cameo during a crucial interaction between her and her son where she sees wrestling as a "low" sport.

The biggest surprise of all in the casting is Steve Carell. From the day he made it big as a popular comedian in the US version of TV's The Office back in 2005 to his subsequent transition as one of the most sought-after comedians in Hollywood, appearing in movies like 2008's GET SMART, 2010's DESPICABLE ME, 2013's DESPICABLE ME 2 and this year's ALEXANDER AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD DAY, it's hard to believe that he is daring enough to step out of his comfort zone and plays a rare dramatic role. Here, Carell delivers a tour de force performance as the enigmatic John E. du Pont. From his virtually-unrecognisable physical transformation to his stilted speech pattern, Carell is especially impressive the way he pulls off a disturbingly eccentric behaviour portraying the real-life figure of John E. du Pont convincingly. Come Oscar season, I would definitely love to see not only Carell in the acting nomination list but also Tatum and Ruffalo as well.

A particularly powerful scene where Mark smashes his head into a mirror and goes on a binge in his hotel room after losing the first of three matches during the qualifier for the 1988 Seoul Olympics in Pensacola, Florida. After Dave finds out about it, he immediately pushes his brother to go on a highly-intense workout to lose 12 pounds in 90 minutes before the next match begins.

As much as I like Carell's captivating performance as John E. du Pont, I wasn't particularly impressed with the way he looks in his prosthetic beaky nose. The makeup effect on the nose is just too fake and shoddy. Despite the recognisable presence of Sienna Miller in a supporting female role, she is sadly underused and forgettable as Dave's wife, Nancy.

Although the screenplay has a plus point that made FOXCATCHER an engrossing experience to watch for, there are many times the movie is overly ambiguous with the strange athlete-and-coach relationship between Mark and John.


Despite some of the flaws, FOXCATCHER emerges as one of the best movies of the year. It is especially a must-watch to witness Tatum, Carell and Ruffalo's outstanding performances alone.

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