Skip to main content

Ornithologist, philatelist, philanthropist.

Foxcatcher
(2014)

(SPOILERS) I really liked Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, a hard sell of a baseball tale (not a sport I have any interest in; I prefer rounders) dramatising a controversial system for assembling winning teams rather than taking the usual tack of following the glories of the players themselves. Foxcatcher, another true-life sports tale, is much less successful. On paper it sounds like a no-brainer; Olympic athletes, rich dynasties and murder. But somehow Miller’s film wears its fascinating subject matter down, becoming an inscrutable and distancing piece that resists its compelling potential.


1984 Olympic wrestling champion Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, all protruding Neanderthal jaw), not-so-little and not-so-bright brother of also Olympic wrestling champion, coach and family man Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo, exploring a really bad hair day for his art), lives in his older sibling’s shadow, so jumps at the offer by John E du Pont (Steve Carell, a walking nose prosthesis, not that he needed one in the first place), heir to the du Pont family fortune and unparalleled wrestling fan, to come and join his Team Foxcatcher where he will be paid handsomely as he trains for the World Championship. It sounds like a great deal, but that’s not factoring in what a complete weirdo John du Pont is.


Dave initially refuses to join his brother, and du Pont, still attached to the apron strings of his frail mother (memorably played by Vanessa Redgrave), embarks on a peculiar friendship with Mark, one where he wakes him in the middle of the night for intimate wrestling bouts and seeks validation for his own pitiful attempts at wrestling and leadership. He also asks to be called Eagle, or Golden Eagle, or John, or Coach; Mark continues calling him sir. After a sniff of proffered coke, Mark’s own training regimen comes unstuck, his hair gets highlights and he starts pigging out. Then his enchantment with his generous benefactor is fatally broken after du Pont strikes him one day (hanging out with the rest of the team at the chalet where he stays, presumably seen as snub by du Pont). Soon after this, Dave arrives, and Mark’s departure is set in stone.


What precisely leads du Pont to shoot Dave repeatedly one wintery morning isn’t clear from the film (“Do you have a problem with me?” he asks before firing), probably because it isn’t clear to the makers just what made du Pont tick. It may be a combination of Dave’s respectful indifference to the lauded and yes-sir status du Pont is used to, or it maybe that he has lost Mark; Miller establishes homoerotic undertones (denied by the real Mark) to the relationship, while du Pont has Mark call him the father he always wish he had in a big speech.


Even with events compressed and altered as they are (in reality, Dave was shot eight years after Mark left Foxcatcher), Bennett and writers E Max Frye and Dan Futterman seem content not to attempt to illuminate. Indeed, they remain remote to the story and aloof from the characters. Sometimes such an approach can serve a narrative, but here, where the central duo is so unrelatable (Dave is only ever peripheral to the main plot, even when he moves to Foxcatcher), there needs to be something more.


Both Tatum and (particularly) Ruffalo are very good, but Dave’s dim watt passive aggression makes for a difficult protagonist (again, this is seems to be a choice made by Miller, as the loner of the movie was really a party guy). Ruffalo brings his ever-present empathy to bear in spades. Carrell’s a different story. It’s difficult to tell if he’s essaying an unknowable man, or just hiding behind prostheses and an impenetrable demeanour. Either way, du Pont is never other than a caricature. At times this even passes into familiar Carrell territory, an excruciating comedy without the laughs (most notably trying to impress his mother by ordering the team).


The picture plods along unhurriedly and there are no heated exchanges, confrontations or dramatics that might inform du Pont’s murderous act (he eventually died in prison). Again, sometimes this sort of slow burn can be hypnotic, but here it’s tiresome. It doesn’t help that, with its unapologetic ‘80s milieu, Foxcatcher is an aesthetically unwelcoming picture. One comes away agreeing with the snobby du Pont matriarch that “It’s a low sport” (not that fox hunting’s anything to be proud of), even as a backdrop to the events depicted here. More than that, even a cursory glance at the real story suggests the tack taken by Miller (who spent a year editing the picture, so presumably encountered hiccups along the way) might not have best suited the material.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I think I’m Pablo Picasso!

Venom: Let There Be Carnage (2021) (SPOILERS) I get the impression that, whatever it is stalwart Venom fans want from a Venom movie, this iteration isn’t it. The highlight here for me is absolutely the wacky, love-hate, buddy-movie antics of Tom Hardy and his symbiote alter. That was the best part of the original, before it locked into plot “progression” and teetered towards a climax where one CGI monster with gnarly teeth had at another CGI monster with gnarly teeth. And so it is for Venom: Let There Be Carnage . But cutting quicker to the chase.

Are you, by any chance, in a trance now, Mr Morrison?

The Doors (1991) (SPOILERS) Oliver Stone’s mammoth, mythologising paean to Jim Morrison is as much about seeing himself in the self-styled, self-destructive rebel figurehead, and I suspect it’s this lack of distance that rather quickly leads to The Doors becoming a turgid bore. It’s strange – people are , you know, films equally so – but I’d hitherto considered the epic opus patchy but worthwhile, a take that disintegrated on this viewing. The picture’s populated with all the stars it could possibly wish for, tremendous visuals (courtesy of DP Robert Richardson) and its director operating at the height of his powers, but his vision, or the incoherence thereof, is the movie’s undoing. The Doors is an indulgent, sprawling mess, with no internal glue to hold it together dramatically. “Jim gets fat and dies” isn’t really a riveting narrative through line.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.

Fifty medications didn’t work because I’m really a reincarnated Russian blacksmith?

Infinite (2021) (SPOILERS) It’s as if Mark Wahlberg, his lined visage increasingly resembling a perplexed potato, learned nothing from the blank ignominy of his “performances” in previous big-budget sci-fi spectacles Planet of the Apes and, er, Max Payne . And maybe include The Happening in that too ( Transformers doesn’t count, since even all-round reprobate Shia La Boeuf made no visible dent on their appeal either way). As such, pairing him with the blandest of journeyman action directors on Infinite was never going to seem like a sterling idea, particularly with a concept so far removed from of either’s wheelhouse.

I can do in two weeks what you can only wish to do in twenty years.

Wrath of Man (2021) (SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie’s stripped-down remake of Le Convoyeur (or Cash Truck , also the working title for this movie) feels like an intentional acceleration in the opposite direction to 2019’s return-to-form The Gentleman , his best movie in years. Ritchie seems to want to prove he can make a straight thriller, devoid of his characteristic winks, nods, playfulness and outright broad (read: often extremely crude) sense of humour. Even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword has its fair share of laughs. Wrath of Man is determinedly grim, though, almost Jacobean in its doom-laden trajectory, and Ritchie casts his movie accordingly, opting for more restrained performers, less likely to summon more flamboyant reflexes.

Five people make a conspiracy, right?

Snake Eyes (1998) (SPOILERS) The best De Palma movies offer a synthesis of plot and aesthetic, such that the director’s meticulously crafted shots and set pieces are underpinned by a solid foundation. That isn’t to say, however, that there isn’t a sheer pleasure to be had from the simple act of observing, from De Palma movies where there isn’t really a whole lot more than the seduction of sound, image and movement. Snake Eyes has the intention to be both scrupulously written and beautifully composed, coming after a decade when the director was – mostly – exploring his oeuvre more commercially than before, which most often meant working from others’ material. If it ultimately collapses in upon itself, then, it nevertheless delivers a ream of positives in both departments along the way.

Madam, the chances of bagging an elephant on the Moon are remote.

First Men in the Moon (1964) (SPOILERS) Ray Harryhausen swaps fantasy for science fiction and stumbles somewhat. The problem with his adaptation of popular eugenicist HG Wells’ 1901 novel isn’t so much that it opts for a quirky storytelling approach over an overtly dramatic one, but that it’s insufficiently dedicated to pursuing that choice. Which means First Men in the Moon , despite a Nigel Kneale screenplay, rather squanders its potential. It does have Lionel Jeffries, though.

I’ll look in Bostock’s pocket.

Doctor Who Revelation of the Daleks Lovely, lovely, lovely. I can quite see why Revelation of the Daleks doesn’t receive the same acclaim as the absurdly – absurdly, because it’s terrible – overrated Remembrance of the Daleks . It is, after all, grim, grisly and exemplifies most of the virtues for which the Saward era is commonly decried. I’d suggest it’s an all-time classic, however, one of the few times 1980s Who gets everything, or nearly everything, right. If it has a fault, besides Eric’s self-prescribed “Kill everyone” remit, it’s that it tries too much. It’s rich, layered and very funny. It has enough material and ideas to go off in about a dozen different directions, which may be why it always felt to me like it was waiting for a trilogy capper.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.