At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Foxcatcher “2014”

MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Biographical Sports True Crime Drama/ Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo, Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Boyd, Brett Rice, Bruce Baumgartner, Samara Lee, Jackson Frazer, Jane Mowder, Daniel Hilt, Lee Perkins, David “Doc” Bennett, Jazz Securo/ Runtime: 134 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by saying that if you as an audience member were even remotely familiar with the actors that are Channing Tatum, Steve Carrell, and Mark Ruffalo and you chose to sit down and engage in the slice of cinematic pie that I am reviewing today, 2014’s Foxcatcher, based primarily off who was in the film, I think you would most likely be in for quite the delightful surprise. That is because, based off their filmographies before this movie this is a cast that, for the most part, would make you think the film that you are about to see them is one that is comedic, whimsical, and maybe even a tad bit heartwarming and meant to plain and simply entertain you. If you think for one moment that is what you would be getting with this film then you would be not even close to accurate. That is because none of that is close to either the truth, vibe, or core of this film from film helmer Bennett Miller. Rather Foxcatcher, based on a heartbreaking yet real life tragedy, regales you the viewer with an immersive from a pathos perspective yet also pitch black tale of a wealthy man who approaches a medal-earning Olympic athlete to train on his estate with a group of Olympic hopefuls and, in the process, operate as an unwilling conduit for both his strong love of the sport as well as the figurehead of sorts for his rebellion against his smothering and, in his view, closed-minded mom who has no love for either wrestling as a sport or for that matter her son’s desire to have some degree of involvement with it. Suffice it to say things only go downhill from there and it isn’t long before passion is replaced by obsession and rebellion…..well I’ll leave it up to you to discover what that leads to. What I can tell you though is that thanks to amazing work both behind the camera and in front of it, Foxcatcher is one potent tale that I promise you won’t ever forget….

The plot is as follows: Foxcatcher starts its riveting saga by introducing us to a man by the name of Mark Schultz. Mark, we soon learn, is a medal earner in that prestigious sporting event known as the Olympics and whose time in the 1984 games in Los Angeles has managed to capture the attention of none other than the very well-off John du Pont, heir apparent to the du Pont family fortune. To that end, we see that Mark, whilst in the middle of training with older brother Dave who is also a successful medalist in his own right, is given the exclusive invitation to train alongside what is being christened as “Team Foxcatcher”, operate in a fantastic training HQ that is located on du Pont’s estate, and even live there as well all in the name of preparing to compete in both the Wrestling World Championships and the Olympic games the following year which when our story takes place would have been the ones occurring in Seoul in 1988. Even more astonishing is the fact that du Pont’s motivation for doing this actually appears to be decent in that he would like to see that our intrepid hero is able to acquire the glory he so rightfully has earned and that the United States also comes to respect the skill to say nothing of the sacrifices and the hard work that its Olympic representatives bring to the table so to speak. Yet whilst we soon Mark eagerly agree to the offer, his brother respectfully turns it down citing his family above himself. Yet even though at first the arrangement between Mark and John seems to be working in a way that benefits both of them, things start to take a turn when du Pont begins to show he might not be the man he said he was. Suffice it to say then that events soon start to occur which begin to put Mark on a parallel path from both du Pont and his brother Dave who eventually decides to work with du Pont and Team Foxcatcher after all. Suffice it to say then that the seeds of pain and tragedy have now been planted and when they blossom things will never be the same. Not only for DuPont, but for the brothers whose lives have unfortunately crossed paths with him as well……

Now I’m not gonna lie to you dear reader: this film does quite simple on a superficial level and the trinity of main cast members at the heart of the story would not up until this really have given you the idea that this was a complex and quite dark story. Of course beyond that it should also be noted that since a lot of people might not be aware of this particular tale that too could cause them to think this film is most certainly a comedy or feel-good slice of cinematic pie or in a less specific way of describing it “something it most certainly is not”. Yet for all the things that it isn’t there is one thing that it is and that is truly astonishing. Not in terms of the narrative since all you need is Google and fingers to figure out the specifics of this particular story, but more in film as an art form and in the power of powerhouse performances coming from where you might not expect them. On top of all that though is the fact that this slice of cinematic pie is gorgeously made in a way that is both subtle yet to the point; a manner that feels like the work this helmer did with the amazing Brad Pitt film Moneyball, but kicked up a notch. Suffice it to say then that Foxcatcher is not simplistic and nuanced, but also a truly dynamic film that manages to keep you riveted whilst also showcasing the positives of to the point film where the narrative and the work of the performers are what propel the movie onward. Indeed this was a film made by a group of creative minds behind the camera who have a true appreciation and respect for not just the lingering shot, but for putting the camera at just the right spot so as to allow the performers and their performances to mold the narrative unfolding before us. Thus this film, from a technical perspective, is both accurate yet riveting as well as a wonderful film for those of you who have a fondness not for creativity so much, but for the grade-A mechanics of filmmaking which see all the tricks behind the camera fade so as to allow the screen to operate as an immersive and constantly changing stage so the narrative can work the way it wants to with nothing whatsoever holding it back from doing so.

To that end, it should be noted that the trinity of lead performances at the heart of this film are just as terrific as Miller’s work at the helm if not more so. Indeed this is a slice of cinematic pie which operates on how immersive the characters are so it should come as no surprise to learn that the trinity of main performances are all constructed on a potent and riveting framework of subtlety that helps these thespians find new avenues to explore in their chosen profession. Indeed as Mark’s loving and protective older brother Dave, Mark Ruffalo is downright fantastic. Yes he might not get as much immersive character work as the other two, but his character is perhaps the most crucial in terms of the story and then taking said narrative to its dark yet riveting end. We also get a truly winning performance from Steve Carell who is literally unrecognizable as the wealthy guy who not only finds a sense of comfort and a chance to put his family name on something he deems worthy in his work with the Schultz brothers, but also his own downward spiral as well. Indeed, and more than other character in the film, this is the trickiest role to get down to the mat so to speak. This is because the film chooses to slowly, but surely reveal who this character is from a psychological perspective and it is that inner darkness and turmoil that Carell manages to bring to the surface by the end and thus make for one heck of a performance. Above even them though is the work done here by Channing Tatum whose growth as an actor has been truly astonishing. Indeed the actor once known for grinding on people in Magic Mike and dancing in the first Step Up has managed to completely reinvent himself and give us a performance that is the right amounts of subtlety and physicality as well as showcasing the inevitable build-up and subsequent break-down of the character in a way that is riveting and haunting in equal measure. Suffice it to say then that with a trinity of powerhouse performances like this at the heart of the film, this is one movie which shows the kind of acting that should be worked towards by any actor in a pathos-driven role and thus should be looked at as top-notch examples for years to come.

All in all I completely would understand if you took an initial look at this slice of cinematic pie and told me straight up that it doesn’t really look like anything particularly noteworthy. Yet if you’ll forgive the clichéd, grade school-level advice I’m about to give you: appearances truly can be deceiving. A piece of advice best made evident by both the level of technical skill behind the camera and the riveting and truly engaging performances in front of the camera especially as they relate to the core of the arresting tale being told. Suffice it to say then that Foxcatcher “2014” really truly at the end of the day is a quite to the point tale about how madness can slowly stew under the guises of both wealth/privilege as well as a passion that refuses to die and how those things can hide that madness, but never for very long. Indeed this slice of cinematic pie is one which is intriguingly beautiful both in how simple it is and how it manages to work effectively as a slow burn even though it does end with quite the jolt though I feel that is the cinematic version of an exclamation mark on a tale of slowly escalating tragedy more than anything. Indeed by being molded by helmsmanship that is both precise and intelligent, editing work that is to the point, and several performances that are truly top-notch in every sense of the word, it goes without saying, but Foxcatcher really truly is one of the most potent slices of cinematic pie that the year 2014 ever saw fit to give us. On a scale of 1-5 I give Foxcatcher “2014” a solid 4 out of 5.