Saturday, January 24, 2015

Foxcatcher (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Director Bennett Miller (Capote) gives his film "Foxcatcher" the appropriate brown and gray tones in telling the true life story of John E. du Pont, who was a noted ornithologist and wrestling coach and, who also grew increasingly erratic and paranoid with delusions.

As in Miller's previous "Moneyball" we are in the land of crisis and power. Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum, a gifted but struggling wrestler on a downswing), dining on junk food in a dark apartment with barely enough to sustain himself, gets a call from the office of a powerful family wanting to meet him to discuss his wrestling future. Mark has nothing to lose.

He is flown first class to the du Pont  mansion, the very same family that made their tremendous fortune in explosives and most recently, chemicals.

As if he were a watchful all-seeing gargoyle or strange bird, John du Pont (Steve Carell) abruptly appears behind Mark, without so much as a human footfall.

After several pointed questions, John says he wants America to have role models once again intending to personally coach Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) to make the USA Olympic team and win gold. Mark agrees, swept up in the man's patriotic romanticism.

The partnership makes a noose.

Carell is wonderful in this role as the oddly soft-spoken yet harsh bird like presence who struts and frets like a pasty raven. His iconic nerdish persona as seen in many comedies has disappeared. Here he is a very scary and intimidating incarnation. Physically too, he is changed, transformed by an imposing forehead and a large hatchet handled nose. Thankfully, it is Carell's inner coldness that repels any ridicule the prosthetics may cause.

Channing Tatum also does his best although his face seems to invariably retain his oft-recognizable wide-eyed and stunned look. Even with the same facial vocabulary, he is duly convincing as the earnest and gullible athlete.

Ruffalo is well cast as Mark's more stable and caring brother, who might be less ambitious but who is also more mindful of fame's pitfalls.

The verve of "Foxcatcher" goes to Carell though, who gives some quirk and poetry to this true crime story of yet another rich man consumed by his ego. Throughout the film, Carell is an obscure and oppressive Mr. Magoo type, who rules his muscled roost with menace, despite his diminutive form.

Even though this is not a comedy by any means, there are some acid humor moments as the short and sunken-chested billionaire goes for the legs in a wrestling move and attempts to mount his man like a mouse on a lion. Such antics only make this creature more frightening; he is not a mouse, but an albino rat and he will stop at nothing to win and gain adulation.

The only trace of Steve Carell's smile is when he urges Channing Tatum to pronounce the word "philatelist" and "philanthropist" correctly. The smile that once belonged to Michael Scott in "The Office" is now property of a sad and covetous shark or bird of prey.

The final scenes of "Foxcatcher" will hit you square in the heart and while this all makes fitting trappings for the director, for Steve Carell, it is nearly off-putting and wonderfully confusing to see him as this strange controlling little man, driven to extremes by his mother.

Write Ian at

No comments: