Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

12 December 2014

Fox-catcher

Bennett Miller is great at what he does. Miller makes very smart movies that I find really emotionally compelling, but that tend to be bleak or more clinical than most. His movies don't hit the emotional nail on the head, the way so many other filmmaker's movies tend to do. What one ends up leaving the theatre with is an overwhelming feeling of just how well made Miller's movies are.

So to begin, Foxcatcher is excellent. It is superbly acted and sparely made.

And Foxcatcher avoids the sentimental storylines it might have followed, focusing instead on the viewer's intellectual understanding of what is happening, and aiming for more complex characters – if you think of the way Capote and Moneyball work, you can see this same avoidance of simplicity. Miller creates complex, difficult characters. Even his heroes have many things wrong with them. They make awful mistakes and selfish decisions that later cause them great pain. So Foxcatcher is not a story of how bright, young wrestling star Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is seduced, exploited, and destroyed by the wealthy billionaire John du Pont (Steve Carrell). Instead it is a nuanced, slow tale of a strange relationship between this rich patron and a man who feels alone and misunderstood. Of course, du Pont is exploitative and creepy, and Schultz is a bright, young star who is innocent in many ways, but to his great credit Miller never lets us place the men in easy villain/victim roles.

Like Moneyball this film, too, is about money – about how money works to give some people what they want and ask others to bend their ideals and shape themselves into different people altogether. Foxcatcher is a fascinating character study of three men (Schultz's brother David, played by Mark Ruffalo is also a very important figure in the film). And it's also a USAmerican tragedy; Foxcatcher's ending is overwhelmingly, devastatingly sad.

Mr. Tatum
If I seem reserved in my praise of the film, and if what I'm saying sounds intellectual rather than emotional, I think that's both what the film wants from its viewers as well as a slight problem I had with the film. I really liked Foxcatcher, and yet... it wasn't everything I wanted it to be. I can't quite put my finger on what else I wanted from it – greater insight into the main character Mark Schultz and the decisions he made, more emotional resonance between the two brothers, a greater indictment of John du Pont, or wealthy entitlement in general – but I did want something else from the movie. It is an excellent film, but I suppose I must've expected something slightly different.

As for the acting, I have spoken before about how good I think Channing Tatum is. In Foxcatcher he's better than he's ever been. He's absolutely unbearably good in this movie. His performance is completely physical – he embodies this bow-legged iron-jawed wrestler perfectly – but to stare at his face (and Miller's camera does this a lot) is to see worlds of heartbreak. It's a gorgeous performance: easily one of the best of the year. Everyone is talking about Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo, and that's fine. They are both very good, but Tatum's work here is revelatory.

In any case, Foxcatcher is easily one of the best film's of the year. It's creepy and suspenseful and powerful and honest and scary and finally heartbreaking.