Foxcatcher quickly grabbed a lot of attention for its stark representation of some big named actors. While Steve Carell has tackled heavier material before, he had never looked as sinister as he did in the first couple of images released, and while Channing Tatum was breaking out, his career had yet to take him in this kind of direction. Gaining traction through the festival circuit and a limited release before it hit wide, Foxcatcher seemed primed for the big awards season.
It’s got all of the pieces for a bonafide award contender. It’s based on a depressing true story, features notable actors doing something unconventional, and there’s plenty of drugs and make up. But too bad it doesn’t have the most important aspect of a good film: a direction.
Foxcatcher is based off of millionaire John du Pont (Steve Carell) and his “training” of Olympic wrestlers Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave (Mark Ruffalo) Schultz in his home of Foxcatcher ranch. As John invites Mark to train at his state of the art facility for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Mark agrees to escape the shadow of his more successful brother. But Mark quickly learns that John is throwing his money behind the Schultz brothers in order to earn the respect of his mother and the world around him.
Foxcatcher is the argument against giving directors freedom from studio interference. Most of the time when you hear of heavy studio involvement, you hear of the bad things like censorship or hard to work conditions. But in an era where films see it fit to run an ungodly length of time (we’ve lost our chance at a concise masterpiece) just because they can, and every film in theaters is two hours plus, that’s when the studios come in and adjust things. Regardless of the actual reason for those adjustments (budget reasons, for example), the tighter leash forces directors to think more creatively and effectively utilize what little run time they’re allotted. But if a director is given all of this freedom but chooses not to use the empty space between narrative beats, you get long stretches of nothing. That’s Foxcatcher in a nutshell.
It’s just a shame too as there are quite a few interesting dramatic moments in between all of the filler. Tatum as Mark Schultz is wonderful. An intentional stonefaced delivery complete with nuanced physicality, Tatum certainly has a future in films like these. I can’t wait to see Tatum challenge himself more. Foxcatcher is at times intense and unforgiving, and during these brief scenes, it’s compelling. For example when John du Pont is introduced, he gives this brief speech and Carell fills the air with a sinisterness by just breathing. In fact, Carell deserves whatever awards nominations or wins that he gets in the future. He is a commanding, yet fragile presence. A slightly unhinged individual with shallow breath, you spend the entire film waiting for the him to completely unravel. But if you already know the story that inspired Foxcatcher, there won’t be payoff for you and all of the waiting you had to endure will be for naught. In fact, you’ll wish it came sooner.
Foxcatcher could’ve been an interesting character study had it attempted to diversify its tone. There’s never any attempt to present these individuals as something other than broken, and when you don’t attempt to mask it (or explore that brokenness), there’s very little in the narrative to chew on. There’s never any attempt to bring the audience in, and your always left on the sidelines waiting for something to happen. When Foxcatcher gives you yet another pregnant pause, or yet another landscape shot, you’ve lost interest in all of it as you realize the narrative would rather wallow in its pretentiousness than dissect it.
Foxcatcher is a film where you watch a fox chase a rabbit for over two hours, taking time every now and then for a nap. By the time the fox actually catches the rabbit, you’ve been lulled into such a sleepy state it’s impossible to stay invested in anything that happens on screen. It all just fades into the background.
It’s a damn shame too as what is in that background is fantastic work. A good show of talent for all of the cast involved with a story based off a little known true story, and some fantastic transitions between scenes. But as mentioned, it’s buried under tons and tons of bad pacing. When the most educated criticism I can come up with after immediately watching is “it’s boring,” I have no idea what to blame. Maybe myself. Maybe there’s something here I just didn’t connect with, but as it stands, Foxcatcher catches little.