Carrell, Tatum impress in intense sports thriller Foxcatcher

Many of the films released this awards season have been plagued by befuddling publicity campaigns. No one knows exactly what happens in Inherent Vice. Birdman and Whiplash, two of the most buzzed movies of the year, have practically foregone TV advertising altogether. And Foxcatcher fell easily into this trend as well. When I saw the trailer (and trailers were few and far between), I expected a fast-paced and intense, true-story athletic drama. What I got was something much subtler, albeit still achieving a particular intensity.

The story trudges on at a slow and deliberate pace, aided by minimal dialogue. This dialogue, however, is delivered expertly. Channing Tatum is Mark Schultz, an Olympic gold-medal wrestler in the late ‘80s, forever living in the shadow of his charismatic older brother Dave, played by Mark Ruffalo. Tatum’s silent brooding, counterpointed by Ruffalo’s familial concern, results in striking emotional tension and on-screen chemistry. But, as predicted, Steve Carrell’s career-defying performance as unstable multi-millionaire John du Pont dominates most scenes, due as much to his sheer talent in the role as to the thought at the back of every viewer’s mind — wait a sec, is that actually Steve Carrell I’m watching?!

As for my preconception that this was a story about sports, I was not entirely wrong, but rather pleasantly surprised. Foxcatcher is in the same vein as the great sports films of history, using the drama of athletic competition as a backdrop for both a commentary on society and a portrayal of exceptional humanity. Themes like love and brotherhood, jealousy and obsession and disappointment and achievement are explored with depth and complexity. The three central characters just happen to be real people involved in the sport of wrestling at a high level. And this sports film just happens to have a crime twist as well.

Yet, despite my appreciation of the film’s achievements in creating mood and anticipation — strong acting, impressive cinematography, careful sound editing — something still seemed to be missing. The action mounted and mounted, seeming to reach numerous tipping points, but nothing ever really exploded. Watching Foxcatcher can be compared to the feeling you get when you are preparing to sneeze, but the sneeze never comes to fruition.

This film exhibits mastery of so many elements required to make a great movie. Occasional issues with pacing, however, detract from its potential on a purely entertainment level. Nonetheless, Foxcatcher is sure to provoke some serious thought, and you will no doubt be seeing these actors again come awards season.