Review: Foxcatcher (TIFF 2014)

PLOT: The true story of Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) who finds himself taken under the wing of a dangerously unpredictable sponsor, John du Pont (Steve Carell).

REVIEW: Going into a film festival like TIFF, a movie with the pedigree of FOXCATCHER is about as close to a sure thing as you're likely to get quality-wise. Having already played to raves at Cannes and Telluride, FOXCATCHER comes here with Oscar buzz in the air and it's easy to see why. Director Bennett Miller (CAPOTE, MONEYBALL) has taken a bizarre, true-crime tale and turned it into a truly fascinating character study, with possible career-best performances from the two leads.

It's amazing to think that just a few years ago, Channing Tatum was being dismissed as a pretty-boy actor with no particular acting talent. Very much in line with what his MAGIC MIKE co-star Matthew McConaughey has accomplished in the last few years, Tatum has proved several times lately what a great performer he can be when given the chance, and FOXCATCHER is the best example of that so far. As Mark Schultz, Tatum does a terrific job conveying a somewhat lunkheaded, but talented wrestler who's on the precipice of going to seed.

As portrayed here, his big problem is that he feels like he lives in the shadow of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo) who's a better athlete, a better coach, and just an all-around great guy. This makes him easy prey, and Tatum plays him as vulnerable, with a strong degree of self-loathing, including a brilliant bit where he trashes a hotel room, breaking a mirror with his forehead, and binging on junk-food. Tatum's physique is impressive as always, but here he really goes through the wringer, with special attention being paid to how rigorous the demands made on Olympians can be, with a harrowing scene showing him being forced to lose a dozen pounds of bloating in ninety minutes, or be disqualified.

As good as he is though, it feels inevitable that he'll be overshadowed by Steve Carell, who goes way against type as the paranoid, schizophrenic du Pont. With makeup that makes him look shark-like, Carell is extremely disciplined, with him playing du Pont more as a kind of quiet Chauncy Gardener-style character than a raving lunatic. If anything, this makes him even more unsettling, and it's extremely unlikely at this point that Carell won't at least land an Oscar nomination. His du Pont is a loathsome figure, with his affected philanthropist act devolving into him calling himself a wrestling coach, with his only contribution to the training being some rather uncomfortable roughhousing, and giving them all the occasional line of coke when he thinks they need it.

One guy who really brings the best out of Carell here is Ruffalo as Dave, who eventually winds up working for du Pont, but is never fooled by him for a second. Ruffalo is such a consistently underrated guy, and of the three, he's the one you'll feel for the most, with him coming off as a such an ideal, compassionate figure.

While the buzz is unanimously positive, FOXCATCHER has gotten some slight criticism in that many feel it's a little slow. While it is deliberately paced, it shouldn't be forgotten that this is a character-piece, and Miller's approach is straight out of the handbook of the very best auteurs of the 1970's, especially Hal Ashby. Miller's on an incredible roll, with this being his only his third film and all of them having been great so far. It's exceptionally well cast (even with the smaller roles played by Anthony Michael Hall and Sienna Miller), and beautifully crafted. In the end, FOXCATCHER plays out like a true family tragedy, ending on a haunting note that will likely stick with audiences for a while afterwards. Truly, this is an excellent piece of work.

Review: Foxcatcher (TIFF 2014)




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.