1 April 2015 | left-of-center
Missing a True Emotional Core
I'm usually on the same page as movie critics and fans when it comes to awards season flicks. But, I just don't get the massive acclaim for "Foxcatcher", Bennett Miller's based-on-a-true-story drama about the fractured relationships between two Olympic wrestling brothers, Mark and Dave Schultz (Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo), and their mentally disturbed benefactor, John du Pont (Steve Carell). Do I think it's a terrible film? I won't go that far. But, nothing about it emotionally moved me or made me think too much. I think it's just one of those movies that come off as so "serious" that the knee-jerk reaction is praise.
Here's my main problem: the storytelling and characters are so hollow. I don't know if this was Miller's point but there's a way to depict emptiness and hollowness without the film feeling empty and hollow itself. Many people describe this as a "slow burn" that requires patience and concentration from a viewer. I have plenty of both and tend to usually enjoy slower films. But, it's not the slowness that some people are reacting to. It's the deadness at the center.
We get no deep insight into any of the characters, except for John in rare moments, besides what they say superficially. What was it that really ruined the relationship between Mark and John? Jealousy, insecurity, betrayal, suppressed homoeroticism? What did Dave really think of John? And why exactly did Mark spiral so dramatically?
Now, I do appreciate ambiguity in characters and film very much. Not everything has to be obvious, cut-and-dry. But, if you're going to make the characters an enigma, at least give us more to work with to be able to figure them out. Instead, "Foxcatcher" disappointingly stays on the surface, making us guess way too much instead of diving deep into these people, who, given the fact that they're real, leave plenty of room to explore.
Because of this, the tragic ending left me pretty cold. John is such an empty shell throughout that we're never fully let into his inner world. We never get to completely understand his insanity. We're always on the outside of this character, looking in. As a result, his actions just feel disconnected and unexplainable. And the fact that the film ends so abruptly, without making us fully feel the impact of this horrible event, makes it even odder to digest.
Luckily, the performances of Carell and Ruffalo save the show and made it somewhat watchable. Carell joins the lengthy list of hilarious comedians capable of moving dramatic work. Known to audiences as a lovable, heart-warming goofball, he totally transforms and channels a still, unsettling intensity. I squirmed watching some of his scenes, as he was so palpably awkward and in pain, while making the aloof way the character was written work. Ruffalo is a great character actor yet always brings his own brand of sweetness and groundedness to every role. He has a way of making his characters seem totally real and recognizable. Here, he stands out as the most relatable, appealing member of the bunch. Their Oscar nominations were well-deserved.
Now, as far as Tatum goes, I did not see the brilliant, career-changing performance many were raving about. He was more or less his same one-note, depthless self, except he was given a few ridiculously showy scenes here. But, he still underwhelmed me. This part is really the central role and a truly gifted actor could've done so much with it. Mark is naive, ambitious, intense, obsessive, immature, and vulnerable. Yet, in Tatum's hands, who seems to be under the impression that stone-faced staring is great acting, he generally just comes off as dim and foolish, missing all of the emotional layers that should've been there (which could be another reason why it just failed to resonate with me).
If I had to recommend this, it'd only be for Carell and Ruffalo, who both act circles around Tatum. I can understand what Miller was trying to do with the film. Yet, I don't feel compelled to revisit.