|Steve Carell works on the mental mindset of Channing|
Tatum (right) in 'Foxcatcher.'
Honoring the discipline of editing and the subtlety of acting, director Bennett Miller expertly captures the bright colors and darkening tones that move us from the grubby world of workmanlike gyms and lonely meals -- endured in the 1980s by the world’s best freestyle wresters -- to the lure of Virginia estates, helicopter rides, protective security and all the prestige and largesse of America’s richest family, the du Ponts.
I hadn’t expected Miller deserved an Oscar nomination for directing but he does. I don’t think he will win but he is a far more acceptable Oscar choice than “Imitation Game’s” Morten Tyldum. Particularly since Miller’s original work was so detailed that the film is strengthened by expert shortening while Tyldum never seems to know when to quit.
You would probably grab your wallet and head for the hills if someone came to you asking for money with the outlines of the “Foxcatcher” story. I mean, come on! Two brothers, Olympic Gold freestyle wrestlers from the wrong side of the tracks, running afoul of a rich man who wants to be called “Golden Eagle” and lards them with attention. Sounds like a bit of masculine overkill of class clichés and Nixonian style establishment pretenses. But this unfolding, while allowing us to revel in the greenery of the rich and grunt in the sweat of the gym, produces something deeper than peasant roots confronting aristocratic stock.
Miller’s care with place and contrasts of values means he doesn’t have to spell out social messages, they just pop up and pop in. How the rich in their wealthy isolation are not only catered to but rewarded when they come down from Olympus to back the routine athletes of the Olympics. How family envy underlies disappointment whatever the class. How people obviously crazy but filthy rich are excused and even rewarded for the craziness. How the virtues of hard basic achievement can be corrupted all too easily. How the wealthy are allowed “idiosyncrasies” that on the street corner would be labeled dangerous nuttiness.
Even the casual cameos – Vanessa Redgrave as the matriarchal du Pont rich with stylish disapproval – further the emotional impact.
There is terrific physical control and emotionally exact acting from the leading trio. There are also liberties with the actual story to create growing tension, an emotional seduction by an aloof and demanding patron who wants to be a leader of men and must subtly destroy any opposing worthy. When he can’t, we sense impending doom that can’t be dismissed as random mental illness.
A revelation awaits those who only came to watch screen heartthrob Channing Tatum flex his abs. His portrayal of Mark Schultz, the younger brother hungry for fame and resisting the supportive shadow of David, his down to earth brother, carries us from concentrated simple-minded focus on his craft to blind destructive devotion to a substitute father of great wealth and growing scariness, then on into glowering hatred over what has happened to his central worth.
It is portrait internally believable but has angered the real-life Mark whose memoirs inspired the film. He has openly questioned where the director has taken his character (cocaine use, social and sexual naiveté) – but the character decisions actually allow believable inner conflicts to dramatically surface. The approach also gives Tatum the role of his life, and he meets every tic.
|Tatum turns away from older brother Dave, played|
by Mark Ruffalo in 'Foxcatcher.'
And that is the acting that is getting the most attention at awards time – Steve Carell as the quietly creepy du Pont, with his slow cadences, bizarre strains of thought, disturbing manners and spread-leg walk like a turtle pretending to be an athlete. It is a fine performance that reminds everyone that Carell is more than the comic actor that has brought him fame. Yet because he has a sense of comic timing he never misses an opportunity to evoke edgy laughter from the quirkiest remarks. A part of me thinks he is getting the award nominations because of the great proboscis given him by the makeup department, but it takes a fine actor to turn that physical gimmick into a natural enhancement of the emotional realities.
It is wise not to reveal too much of the events, but in “Foxcatcher” the characters circle each other in psychological arenas far more dangerous than a gym mat. It is a grappling of minds you don’t completely anticipate, but stunning to sink into.
Oscar confused? Check views on Whiplash, Wild, Into the Woods, Unbroken, Boyhood, Theory of Relativity, Birdman, American Sniper, Imitation Game .