Sunday, January 25, 2015

Foxcatcher

By Sati. Sunday, January 25, 2015 , , , , , , ,
Foxcatcher tells the story based on real events. John du Pont, eccentric millionaire and wresting enthusiast, invited Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz to stay on his farm and be part of the wrestling team John coaches. The movie details the complicated personalities of two men, their odd relationship and Mark's older brother Dave care for his brother, as well as the inevitable tragedy that occurred on Foxcatcher farm.

We had a lot of themes in movies in 2014. One of such themes, a common thread in many films, were the lives of outsiders. Some just odd, but friendly, like in The Skeleton Twins. Some dangerous and psychopathic, like in Gone Girl and Nightcrawler. But there were no outsiders stranger in films of 2014 than those depicted in this film. I'm not just talking about John du Pont. Mark Schultz, compassionately portrayed by Channing Tatum, is an outsider too. He would be completely lonely had it not been for his caring brother Dave. When du Pont reaches out to him, Mark feels special, he feels found. It stroke me that this is a guy who was always in the shadow of his brother - who was more well adjusted and friendly, a family man, everyone's favorite pal. And now there is someone who finally takes interest in Mark.

As for du Pont he was living for other people's admiration and approval, in spite of all the luxuries and money he had, he still felt awful if others didn't look up to him. The film refrains from showing his paranoid behavior for the better half of its run time so in some moments you genuinely feel bad for him, seeing him humiliate himself, this sad, little man doing everything for others to pat him on the back. There is a cringe worthy scene of him showing off as a coach in front of his mother and it's almost impossible not to feel sorry for him in this sequence.
There are a lot of claims being made that this is a cold movie. It's very far from truth. This film is screaming with emotions, it's simply that these are negative, destructive, depressing emotions. Feelings of being alone, abandoned, discarded, under appreciated. Mark and John live for approval of others and without it, when they fail, no matter how small of a failure they suffer, they collapse into pits of either deep depression or profound insanity.

We see these two men strive for respect of others and the film provides so many effective scenes, no matter what happens, whether that respect is gained or lost - when John is having fun with he team there is uneasiness to it, because even though they are all cheering for him, you know they still think he is an incredibly odd guy. Another powerful moment happens when John loses it with Mark and slaps him Mark spins out of control.
Because of the unpredictability of these two and the destructive energy of these scenes Mark Ruffalo's Dave shines so bright. Here is a good guy, someone everyone likes, someone who loves his family and who is there for his brother. In comparison to all those moments even when Mark and John's destructive qualities peek through, Dave's warmth comes in and hits you even more powerfully.

The film's conclusion comes in out of nowhere, again because of the film's downplaying of du Pont's actions. It's the single most shocking thing I've seen last year. I knew it will happen, I knew it will happen in that scene but seeing it go down just made my heart ache. Seeing the most decent character in the film suffer such fate and knowing this is actually what happened hits you like a ton of bricks.
There is such profound honesty to scenes with Dave in this movie, but the most deeply memorable honesty is in scenes with magnificent Vanessa Redgrave who plays du Pont's mother. Du Pont lives in fantasy world - no one tells him the truth because he pays them money so no one wants to risk that. He even wins some wrestling matches because his people paid off his opponents (something that he was probably in the dark about). He lives in this gigantic bubble and whenever something doesn't go according to his plan, whenever people don't act like the chess pieces on his personal board, he snaps. His disbelief about Dave not wanting to come over to the farm and take his money is so incredibly well portrayed by Carell. Here's the guy who never heard 'no, I don't want your money' before in his entire life.

And it's only his mother, the person whose approval means the most to du Pont, that tells him the truth. She is cold to him and we only see her in short moments, but there is so much mystery to her character. It's clear she failed rising John. But did she fail because she loved him, spoiled him and now turned bitter seeing what she has done to her own son? Or was she always cruel and dismissive of him? Redgrave has such short screentime here but she is absolutely mesmerizing - she depicts such profound disgust and disappointment.
Director Bennett Miller for me is the guy who should be getting all the love Christopher Nolan is getting. This is a proper director right here. Interestingly he made three movies so far, all made about real events. And he has chooses such interesting stories as his subject - while we all know the story of Capote or at least we heard of it, the stories of Billy Beane, the Schultzes and Du Pont are relatively unknown.

He takes all those stories and he always shows them with such patience, with so much detail, never judging the characters, never appearing subjective, just carefully, meticulously showing us these people, telling us their stories, leaving us to make our own conclusions. It's a very effective, respectful and fascinating way to make a movie. This is what makes his movies so immensely rewatchable for me - he makes those people so interesting and so mysterious, he tells you a lot about them, but still enough to make you wonder  - why did they do the things they did? Why did they become this way?
The directing is fantastic but what really stays with you are the three main performances.
According to Channing Tatum, he and Mark Ruffalo spent an intensive five to six months training for wrestling, which had taken its toll on the actors. During one particularly physical take, Channing insisted to Ruffalo to "to just slap the shit out of me and get it over with", which resulted in Channing's eardrum accidentally getting popped. The actors would train after filming, which would leave them in tears due to exhaustion. It's such a commendable effort and the wrestling scenes in the film look very realistic, particularly with Ruffalo, who used to wrestle in his youth.

But what really strikes you is how well these actors portrayed their characters. Tatum has been choosing some very varied roles lately, doing both comedy and drama, and he is really wonderful here portraying fragile and confused Mark. And Ruffalo, who always brings such warmth to his characters, is just excellent as Dave. His interview scene where Dave is forced to praise du Pont, someone he clearly despises and pities, is a powerhouse of acting.
But for me it's Steve Carell who steals the movie. I've spent hours, probably days if you add that time up, laughing at his work in The Office where he played Michael Scott. Carell is one of the funniest comedy actors out there but I was very impressed with his lovely work in underseen Seeking a Friend for the End of the World few years ago. But here, what he did in Foxcatcher, it's truly worthy of all the praise.

I'm normally not a big fan of an actor changing the way they look for performance. It reeks of Oscar bait. But here, while Carell's physical transformation is incredible - he is barely recognizable - the way he transforms his movement, his voice, his facial tricks, it's even more astonishing. There were only one or two moments in the whole film where I felt this is the same actor who played Michael Scott.
The way that du Pont madness is shown is toned down in the movie. I think in part it's because largely we are watching Mark's perspective - and he wants John approval, therefore he probably dismisses most of his insane antics - and in part because that is Miller's way of telling a story - he leaves it for you to decide why what happened, happened. If we saw du Pont driving his car into a lake or pointing a shotgun at people, we would draw a conclusion that du Pont is simply mad. But this is something that even real Mark Schultz disputes, claiming that du Pont's insanity claims were only a trick to get lower sentencing.

There is a clever little trick near the end of the movie where there is montage-like strain of scenes that show du Pont becoming more insecure, paranoid and odd. It all culminates in tragedy and when you see it happen you don't feel it is out of the blue, as shocking as it is. There are several moments when we see du Pont looking hurt and jealous of affection Dave and Mark share.
But what is it really the reason? What was the final straw? The film leaves answers to you. You may think reading this that this is all really ambiguous but in spite of the lack of flashy scenes that du Pont's downward spiral was given, there is enough here. There is also the key, incredibly shot, moment with horses, horses that his mother loved more than she loved him, if she did love him at all. Horses that du Pont never understood much like he never understood the people around him, their emotions, nobility and love all a strange and foreign concept to John.

There are moments in the movie that had not handled well, could become unintentionally funny but Miller has amazing control over material - while what happens in the helicopter and the moment when John tells Mark about Golden Eagle nickname is insane and ridiculous, there is a sinister vibe to these moments. The film's cinematography really deserves a mention. It's just stunning and the whole film is impressively well made. I'm surprised it's not getting more nominations in technical categories because it certainly deserves them. There's also an understated score that never takes the focus away from the picture but adds plenty of tension to the scenes.

According to Bennett Miller's comments at one of the film's screenings, a rough cut of the film was more than four hours long. Well, I'm still waiting for The Assassination of Jesse James director's cut but I'd love to see the one for Foxcatcher too. Why is that Lars Von Trier can unleash his shitty films in director's cut but good directors don't have a chance to do that with actual good movies?
Foxcatcher is one of  the most impressive movies of 2014. Granted, it may not be my favorite movie. It may not even be entertaining movie. It may not employ the gimmick of being shot over many, many years. But in terms of the maturity, skill and the approach to the story and its execution in the film this is one of the most accomplished works in film in 2014. It's a difficult, difficult movie but it's one that is certainly worth seeing.

I cannot wait to see what story Bennett Miller has for us next.

Foxcatcher  (2014, 129 min)
Director: Bennett Miller
Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman
Stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Plot: The greatest Olympic Wrestling Champion brother team joins Team Foxcatcher led by multimillionaire sponsor John E. du Pont as they train for the 1988 games in Seoul - a union that leads to unlikely circumstances.

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26 comments:

  1. This is a gorgeous and thorough review. I think you captured the themes, characters, and general vibe of this film beautifully. I particularly love the paragraph on the director's patient style of storytelling.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm really a big fan of how Miller makes his movies.

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  2. Brilliant review, you really delved deep into the core of this film. You analysed and thought about each tiny detail, it's just amazing. I'm so incredibly happy that Miller got a Best Director nod, his directing style is different, but really engaging throughout all of his films. Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo were fantastic, and you get major points for writing in detail about Vanessa Redgrave's brief yet utterly spellbinding performance. I thought Sienna Miller was very good as well.

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    1. Thank you! I didn't much like Miller but she was very good in her final scene. Redgrave was just mesmerizing.

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  3. This is truly a great review of a film that I think is Bennett Miller's best work to date. I think he really goes for it with this film and he deserves that Best Director nod from my point of view.

    I had a different interpretation about the film than you as I like to think of it as a journey where both Mark Schultz and John du Pont are two men who are both seeking their own legacies against the shadows of their own family. Yet, they never fulfill those wishes as it's ending is kind of sad where I do feel for du Pont because of his relationship with his mother and the need to be pleased and win her approval. The cast was great as Tatum, Carell, and Ruffalo were great as was Redgrave and Sienna Miller.

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    1. Thank you! I still vastly prefer Moneyball but this was still a very impressive film. Well, Mark and John kinda already had legacies, especially Mark with his medal but I can see your point.

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  4. Great film and great review. At the end all I could think was how grateful I am that Mark Is still alive.

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  5. Great review Sati! Well you said it, it may not be entertaining but it certainly was well-crafted and features some of the best acting of the year. I actually went and read articles about DuPont before seeing the film but THAT scene was still so shocking when it happened.

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    1. Yeah it is just so shocking in its awfulness and injustice! And it still comes off as really sudden.

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  6. Beautiful review, and I love the graphic you made. I'm glad I finally got a chance to see this last week. Carell, Ruffalo, and Tatum were so good. I liked that CNN article you linked too, I learned even more about du Pont (I stayed pretty in the dark about the real story)

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    1. Thank you! Glad I could let people find out more it's really a fascinating and very mysterious story.

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  7. Sati, I'm not lying or exaggerating when I say this, but when you write a review, it's possibly the best review on the web at that current moment. I haven't seen this yet, so I can't comment as to 'agreement' or not, but DAYAM, you write a damn good review.

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    1. Oh, thank you but this is exaggerating :) Yeah I'm observant but my writing is not that good.

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    2. It's good girl, damn good.

      I wish I were as observant in my watching/reviewing. You pick up on so many things, it's insane. Your reviews feel fully fleshed out.

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    3. Thanks! I never publish anything until I said everything I wanted to say :)

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  8. Love the review. For me the performances are the driving force. I really liked the story and found myself completely wrapped up in it. I do think the ending didn't really land. It's a bit clunky and didn't have the clearest focus. Minor gripes though. This is good stuff.

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    1. Maybe it was because of that 4h cut - obviously they cut out a lot from the movie. But I liked the way it ended, Miller doesn't usually go for conventional endings.

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  9. Really great review! I pretty much hated this movie, so we differ there, but I appreciate a well-crafted movie review all the same. I just never felt like this movie was sincere. And it made me uncomfortable in an unwelcome way. It's funny you mentioned The Assassination of Jesse James. I had not thought about how similar these movies are. What's even more though is that I loved that movie but not this one. I think it's an identification thing. I never latched on to Tatum's Mark character the way I did with C. Affleck's Robert Ford. And the movie does Mark, the real protagonist of this thing, a disservice by pretty much dropping him from the story. Perplexing. Excellent performances. Didn't work for me. Moneyball is still my favorite of Miller's movies.

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    1. Thank you! Moneyball is far and away my favorite from his movies too, in fact it's one of my all time favorite movies even though I don't know anything about baseball :)

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  10. Great review! I love that you singled out Bennett Miller's direction, which is the strongest element of the film for me. The actors do an excellent job (though I think Carell is a bit shaky at times), but Miller's handling of the story is precise and on point. So glad the Academy nominated him for Best Director.

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    1. Thank you! I'm so glad Miller got Oscar nomination for this one, even though they got snubbed for BP.

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  11. Though it's cold, dark and as chilly as the winter air, the performances are so fantastic that it's nearly impossible to look away from the screen. Even if it is incredibly unsettling.

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    1. It is unsettling indeed but it's definitely worth it

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  12. Wonderful review Sati. I'm a big admirer of Bennett Miller and of this film. I thought it was superb and the three performances are rock solid. Good to see Carell and Ruffalo get Oscar nods but Tatum should feel himself unlucky not to be included to.

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    1. Thank you! I thought Tatum was the weakest of three but I'd rather see him nominated than Bradley Cooper :/

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