Steve Carell Is So God Damn Scary In ‘Foxcatcher’ You Might Piss Yourself
“Like a killer whale going nuts on his trainer at Sea World.”
Yes, I just quoted Dennis Duffy from 30 Rock, but hear me out! You want to laugh at this line because of the situation surrounding it and its delivery, but it’s one image you’d never actually want to see go down in real life. This, to me, sums up what it’s like watching Foxcatcher, a tragic and disturbing film offset by the unexpectedly funny scenes sprinkled throughout.
Did I laugh because each situation was just too uncomfortable to watch? Perhaps, but one thing is for sure – leave everything you know about Steve Carell at the theater door before seeing this movie.
What’s It Foxcatcher About?
Director Bennett Miller is the guy who helped transform the late Philip Seymour Hoffman into renown journalist Truman Capote and Brad Pitt into the Oakland A’s general manager, and now he has successfully transmogrified Michael Scott into a monster in Foxcatcher. And the worst kind of monster at that – one with lots of money and mommy issues. Foxcatcher tells the tale of John du Pont, and, naturally, this is based on a true story, so how’s about a quick history lesson? Before you say anything, it’s not a spoiler if it actually happened in real life years ago! So save your trolling for the Game of Thrones subredditors who care.
John du Pont was the heir to one of the wealthiest families in American history that became obsessed with the sport of wrestling. (Excuse me, “wrastling.”) Du Pont even went as far as to invite athletic hopefuls to come to his estate — known as Foxcatcher – to live and train for the Olympics. You may be thinking, “Oh, that’s nice of this guy to spend his money and resources on a sport that he loves.” It’s important to note that he didn’t know anything about wrestling, and yet he insisted on naming himself coach. He even commissioned a documentary on himself that emphasized his accomplishments, and he constantly referred to himself as “the Golden Eagle of America.” Then, of course, there’s the real damage – there are a few screws loose up in the ole temple of his, and du Pont became infatuated with two brother wrestlers, Mark and David Schultz, who both came to live at Foxcatcher for a time. On January 26, 1996, after the death of his mother had been weighing on him for some time, John drove to David’s house and shot him to death.
If you’re looking for the feel-good movie of the year, your time is better suited searching for meaning in that new Nicholas Sparks movie.
Who’s In It?
If there ever was an Oscar frontrunner for Best Supporting Actor, Carell is certainly it. John du Pont is the actor’s most compelling character to date, mainly because his transformation into such a complex and psychologically disturbed millionaire in Foxcatcher is so shocking. Carell told reporters at the New York Film Festival that he spent a lot of time with makeup department head Bill Corso in figuring out the perfect look for this character, because “people responded to him in part because he looked a certain way.”
But the Carell we know and love still exists somewhere beneath the prosthetic nose, receding hairline and age spots. Most of the comedic bits – and there are comedic bits – come from du Pont, whether it’s through his coke-fueled ramblings as he gets tongue tied on his helicopter, or his need to impress his ever-watchful mother by trying to teach these professional Olympic athletes basic skills they already know, or his constant need to be called “Eagle” or “Golden Eagle” or “The Golden Eagle of America.” I uncomfortably laughed out loud at these instances, which only became even more uncomfortable when I remembered what this story was leading up to. “Killer whale,” amirite?
However, Carell’s du Pont is not the main focus of Foxcatcher. That title falls to Channing Tatum.
Tatum plays Mark Schultz, our window through which we are told this story for most of the movie. And, again, here’s another instance where an actor shows us something we’ve never seen before. While Mr. Magic Mike is known for gyrating his abs through the Step Up movies and shooting up the place in 21 and 22 Jump Streets, he brings forth a vulnerability and sense of loneliness from the character, while maintaining some of Mark’s physical mannerisms. (Watch the way Tatum holds his jaw throughout the film.) Then there’s Mark Ruffalo, who follows up his noteworthy performance in HBO’s The Normal Heart with another standout role as David Schultz. You come for Carell, you stay for Tatum and Ruffalo.
How Is It?
Aside from the great performances, however, Foxcatcher was one of those films that forced me to think at length before making a judgment call. From all the buzz coming out of the Cannes Film Festival, where the film made its premiere, followed by screenings at Telluride and Toronto, critics were tossing out buzzwords like “frontrunner” and “Oscar bait” like the film was Madonna and these words were her last shreds of dignity. Perhaps it was the hype of such a film with such a subject matter, but Foxcatcher has some flaws.
We begin with Mark as the focal point, but we are kept at a third-person distance from him – and from all the characters, really. As we go through the film, we’re shown more much-needed background into Mark’s upbringing and situation – and there’s one scene in the beginning when the two brothers are warming up together that’s particularly poignant – but soon we’re splitting our time between Mark and David. At the halfway mark, there’s a time jump and we’re all of sudden seeing Mark struggle with a new haircut and some harder issues. (Seriously, what is with this haircut? Someone watch the film and tell me.) Their causes are unknown, other than they’re related to John. By this point, we’re now splitting our time between Mark, David and John, but then all of sudden Mark exits the story in the last portion of the film, only returning for one brief scene before the credits roll.
The audience is kept at too great of a distance from the situation that we’re not fully aware of why these things are happening. If you know the real-life story, you’ll have some smaller insight into why things are happening. But as far as the film itself goes, major emotional changes are occurring within these characters and we’re not fully aware of them, and we’re not fully sympathizing with them on the necessary level. This could’ve possibly been fixed with a deeper dive into John, which would’ve given more weight to his plunge into psychological despair.
Still, Foxcatcher is exquisitely crafted, from the cinematography to its play with silences and sets. But the one thing I’ll never be able to shake – Tatum’s haircut. Seriously, why does he get ‘90s-era blonde highlights?!