Once you move past the acting, regardless of how good it may be, the rest of the film falls flat.
It’s bleak, it’s creepy, and it’s superbly acted, but unfortunately, it is also a dreary, boring film. Foxcatcher’s draw is its unconventional choice of stars: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, and Mark Ruffalo, and all three of them give stellar performances. Both Tatum and Ruffalo have incredible physicality and really become their roles, while Carell is frightening, unnerving, and repulsive in all the best ways – he dominates the screen with some strange kind of anti-charisma that keeps you staring at him with morbid curiosity.
Once you move past the acting, regardless of how good it may be, the rest of the film falls flat. Much of Foxcatcher is, on a technical level, really very good, but director Bennett Miller fails to mesh it all together into something enjoyable. The cinematography offers lots of impressive, stark shots filled with a very reigned in, deliberate colour palette (all of the colours feel slightly grey), but after a while they all seem to run into one another, becoming repetitive and dull. The music, where present, has the same nuanced, subtle style, but for large parts of the film there is nothing other than silence. This in itself wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t leave us with two men sat having one word conversations again and again.
More than anything else, it is the screenplay that lets Foxcatcher down. It has no movement, it just trundles through the story at the same excruciating slow pace, with the exception of a few peaks of tension thrown in seemingly at random. The old adage of “show, don’t tell” has been taken to the extreme; things happen without any kind of explanation and characters veer wildly in opinions and positions throughout the film. It is impossible to get into the heads of any of the characters because they all say so little to anyone, and the one time that they do, the one conversation around which large parts of the plot revolve, is muted for dramatic effect.
The acting in Foxcatcher (and this cannot be stressed enough), is sublime. It is the only part of the film that makes it watchable. If anyone else had been cast, or if the cast had given performances of quality anywhere below what they did, Foxcatcher would be truly awful. As it is, it will (hopefully) mark a turning point in Steve Carell’s career. With an Academy Award nomination under his belt, he is well on his way to cementing his position as a serious actor, one with no small degree of calibre.
Foxcatcher (2015), directed by Bennett Miller, is distributed in the UK by Sony Pictures Classics, Certificate 15.