Uncomfortable. Creepy. Awkward. Distressing. These are all words we used to just use to describe a trip to the post office, or when you order Jersey Mike’s and you’re the only person there and the sandwich artist is feeling exceptionally chatty that day (no, I won’t tell you what I’m doing later tonight, Dave, just make my #13 please…). But now they can describe our movies. Or at least for this holiday season’s fun romp through a sociopathic rich guy’s horse-stable-turned-gym in Bennet Miller’s new film Foxcatcher.
Foxcatcher tells the true story of Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), an olympic gold medal winning wrestler, who gets approached in the 1980s by creepy rich guy John du Pont (Steve Carell) in order to assemble USA’s premiere (non-Hulkamania) wrestling program/training facility. Their relationship maybe gets a little closer than Schultz wants it to, and du Pont’s aggressive methods of making friends and pleasing his crotchety old mother take things to weird places. Let’s just say a lot of things are implied but never shown… After (what I think were) a couple of years, Mark’s *also* gold medalist wrestling brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) enters the picture, which starts to cause even more tension in the bizarre, not-love triangle of guys trying to win awards for grappling each other. What’s the end game? Is it for USA? Is it for du Pont’s ego? It it for the money? You tell me.
The most brilliant aspect of the film for me is the beautifully mixed concoction of awkwardness and uncomfortableness. I found pretty much every single scene to either be awkward or uncomfortable. Sometimes both. I haven’t been to a movie like this in a while where I’ve wanted to cough into my hand to break up the uncomfortable silences of people who aren’t even physically in the room with me, as much as I did here. I’m not exactly badmouthing what Miller did with the scenes, they were compelling, but I felt squeamish for everyone involved from the characters, to the actors, to the people sitting next to me in the theater watching it. Here, I whipped up a quick venn diagram to illustrate what I’m saying better:
Aside from that, this is definitely an acting showcase first and foremost. The three leads all do great jobs of what’s being asked of them (I wouldn’t be surprised if Carell and Ruffalo get nominations). I don’t know how closely they resemble the real people in the story, but I’m assuming Carell elevated the creepiness to a more cinematic level. If someone existed who is as uncomfortable as the du Pont portrayed in this film, I shutter to think about the actual moments these people went through. And of course the acting is amplified by the facial prosthetics they put on everybody. I wouldn’t be surprised if half the appeal of why anybody is even interested in seeing Foxcatcher in the first place is to see these normally comedic actors dressing up with gross facial pieces and threatening each other. And to be honest, I’m not sure if the makeup I’m looking at is even actually good makeup, or it’s just so blatantly and confidently pushed in our faces that I think it’s good makeup? It’s like Looper all over again!
Up until the rather shocking ending, I kind of didn’t understand what the point of this movie was… Like, I didn’t understand why we were even being told this story? 90% of the film just plays out like an awkward power struggle between a very niche group of sport enthusiasts. I mean, I kind of get why this got made into a film, because it has a pretty newsworthy, significant conclusion; but I’m not really sure what anyone is getting out of the main storyline? Despite that, I can look at this lack of insight and still acknowledge that this was a good movie, but really… What is the lesson we are supposed to take away from this? Not to become a borderline slave at a sociopathic rich guy’s farm compound? OK… But that seems like a rather specific lesson to be learned, and one I think most of us can manage to avoid… I guess I’ll just take this film for its entertaining (prosthetically enhanced) face value.
8 out of 10