‘Foxcatcher’ is a slow-burning fuse but full of fire

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum both deserve recognition for their nuanced performances in "Foxcatcher." Scott Garfield/MCT

“Foxcatcher,” released Nov. 14, is based on the true story of eccentric millionaire John du Pont, heir to the du Pont family fortune amassed from the DuPont chemical company. The film’s plot examines what success means to those who already have it.

As if to bury his previous comedic work, Steve Carell completely changes his appearance for his role as John. He sports a receding hairline and, despite already having one of the biggest noses in Hollywood, an even larger prosthetic. This is a much more serious role for Carell — famous for his comedic talent, as showcased on “The Office” (2005 – 2013) — and will disappoint anyone expecting laughs from Michael Scott’s antics. What’s more, the film features Channing Tatum in a remarkably different role from his usual silly-hunk characters.

Tatum plays Olympic gold medalist wrestler Mark Schultz who, struggling to escape the large shadow cast by brother and coach Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), finds a new mentor in John. John gained a sudden and strange interest in the world of wrestling, building a training facility at his estate — called “Foxcatcher” — and enlists Mark to spearhead the creation of “Team Foxcatcher,” recruiting many promising young wrestlers along the way.

Audiences attending “Foxcatcher” should not be expecting high action sequences — this isn’t “21 Jump Street” (2012). Instead, the true story on which this film is based lends itself to a character study of the highest order. While on the surface the focus of “Foxcatcher” is a study of John, a victim of his own fortunate circumstances, trying to achieve his own definition of success while proving himself to his never-impressed mother, the film extends beyond John’s story.

Scott Garfield/MCT

Scott Garfield/MCT

The film also follows Mark, another man with a perpetual thirst for success, unable to quench it even with the highest prize in his field. He is caught between trying to win the approval of his brother while distancing himself from their relationship at the same time. Finally, viewers follow the story of Dave, a family man struggling to keep the world of wrestling out of his personal life.

“Foxcatcher” is a slow burner, but it uses this steady approach to its own benefit by effectively building tension. Those who walk into the theater familiar with John du Pont will know how it all ends. Those unaware will still feel an inexplicable tension thanks to Bennett Miller’s masterful directing and Steve Carell’s unsettling performance. And John’s painfully awkward social interactions with the wrestlers will, surprisingly enough, even remind viewers of Carell’s “The Office” persona, Michael Scott, albeit a deeply disturbed version of him. Some scenes will even draw a few laughs — or, more accurately, nervous chuckles.

Oscar season is now in full swing with “Gone Girl,” “Birdman,” “Whiplash” and “Foxcatcher” all generating buzz. While the others might be more obvious choices for Best Picture due to their entertainment value, “Foxcatcher” is certain to be a competitor. It deserves critical recognition for its excellent acting and even makeup category — who knew Mark Ruffalo could rock a receding hairline? But whether they receive awards for their performances or not does not matter; this film will certainly mark a turning point in both Tatum’s and Carell’s careers. Breaking free of typecast roles to challenge their respective images in Hollywood, Tatum and Carell are taking a risk with “Foxcatcher.”  But as stated in “The Office”: “”You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,’ — Wayne Gretzky,’ — Michael Scott”.


Summary

“Foxcatcher” is a slow burner, but builds tension effectively.

4 stars
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