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 mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016) (SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know, I think you may have the delusion you’re still a police officer.

Heaven’s Prisoners (1996) (SPOILERS) At the time, it seemed Alec Baldwin was struggling desperately to find suitable star vehicles, and the public were having none of it. Such that, come 1997, he was playing second fiddle to Anthony Hopkins and Bruce Willis, and in no time at all had segued to the beefy supporting player we now know so well from numerous indistinguishable roles. That, and inane SNL appearances. But there was a window, post- being replaced by Harrison Ford as Jack Ryan, when he still had sufficient cachet to secure a series of bids for bona fide leading man status. Heaven’s Prisoners is the final such and probably the most interesting, even if it’s somewhat hobbled by having too much, rather than too little, story.

Don’t be ridiculous. Nobody loves a tax inspector. They’re beyond the pale!

Too Many Crooks (1959) (SPOILERS) The sixth of seven collaborations between producer-director Mario Zampi and writer Michael Pertwee, Too Many Crooks scores with a premise later utilised to big box-office effect in Ruthless People (1986). A gang of inept thieves kidnap the wife of absolute cad and bounder Billy Gordon (Terry-Thomas). Unfortunately for them, Gordon, being an absolute cad and bounder, sees it as a golden opportunity, rather enjoying his extra-marital carry ons and keeping all his cash from her, so he refuses to pay up. At which point Lucy Gordon (Brenda De Banzie) takes charge of the criminal crew and turns the tables.

Oh, I love funny exiting lines.

Alfred Hitchcock  Ranked: 26-1 The master's top tier ranked from worst to best. You can find 52-27 here .

Well, it must be terribly secret, because I wasn't even aware I was a member.

The Brotherhood of the Bell (1970) (SPOILERS) No, not Joseph P Farrell’s book about the Nazi secret weapons project, but rather a first-rate TV movie in the secret-society ilk of later flicks The Skulls and The Star Chamber . Only less flashy and more cogent. Glenn Ford’s professor discovers the club he joined 22 years earlier is altogether more hardcore than he could have ever imagined – not some student lark – when they call on the services he pledged. David Karp’s adaptation of his novel, The Brotherhood of the Bell is so smart in its twists and turns of plausible deniability, you’d almost believe he had insider knowledge.

Now all we’ve got to do is die.

Without Remorse (2021) (SPOILERS) Without Remorse is an apt description of the unapologetic manner in which Amazon/Paramount have perpetrated this crime upon any audiences foolish enough to think there was any juice left in the Tom Clancy engine. There certainly shouldn’t have been, not after every attempt was made to run it dry in The Sum of All Our Fears and then the stupidly titled Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit . A solo movie of sometime Ryan chum John Clark’s exploits has been mooted awhile now, and two more inimitable incarnations were previously encountered in the forms of Willem Dafoe and Liev Schreiber. Like Chris Pine in Shadow Recruit , however, diminishing returns find Michael B Jordan receiving the short straw and lead one to the conclusion that, if Jordan is indeed a “star”, he’s having a hell of a job proving it.

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window (2021) (SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.

They wanted me back for a reason. I need to find out why.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) (SPOILERS) I wasn’t completely down on Joss Whedon’s Justice League (I had to check to remind myself Snyder retained the director credit), which may be partly why I’m not completely high on Zack Snyder’s. This gargantuan four-hour re-envisioning of Snyder’s original vision is aesthetically of a piece, which means its mercifully absent the jarring clash of Whedon’s sensibility with the Snyderverse’s grimdark. But it also means it doubles down on much that makes Snyder such an acquired taste, particularly when he has story input. The positive here is that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell. The negative here is also that Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the luxury of telling the undiluted, uncondensed story Snyder wanted to tell (with some extra sprinkles on top). This is not a Watchmen , where the unexpurgated version was for the most part a feast.

Maybe back in the days of the pioneers a man could go his own way, but today you got to play ball.

From Here to Eternity (1953) (SPOILERS) Which is more famous, Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr making out in the surf in From Here to Eternity or Airplane! spoofing the same? It’s an iconic scene – both of them – in a Best Picture Oscar winner – only one of them – stuffed to the rafters with iconic actors. But Academy acclaim is no guarantee of quality. Just ask A Beautiful Mind . From Here to Eternity is both frustrating and fascinating for what it can and cannot do per the restrictive codes of the 1950s, creaky at times but never less than compelling. There are many movies of its era that have aged better, but it still carries a charge for being as forthright as it can be. And then there’s the subtext leaking from its every pore.

To our glorious defeat.

The Mouse that Roared (1959) (SPOILERS) I’d quite forgotten Peter Sellers essayed multiple roles in a movie satirising the nuclear option prior to Dr. Strangelove . Possibly because, while its premise is memorable, The Mouse that Roared isn’t, very. I was never that impressed, much preferring the sequel that landed (or took off) four years later – sans Sellers – and this revisit confirms that take. The movie appears to pride itself on faux- Passport to Pimlico Ealing eccentricity, but forgets to bring the requisite laughs with that, or the indelible characters. It isn’t objectionable, just faintly dull.