After directing Capote and Moneyball, Bennett Miller has become fairly renowned for being a go-to guy when it comes to biopics. So you’d think that him tackling the life of John du Pont—who was an heir to a fortune, weirdly obsessed with amateur wrestling, and who suffered from issues with self esteem and mental illness that eventually led to him committing a murder and being incarcerated—would make for a pretty amazing movie. Unfortunately, this time around, it doesn’t. Miller isn’t a director who I’ve found to be too on the nose in the way he tells stories before, but for some reason his hand gets fairly heavy here (through extraneous use of flashbacks, camera work that over emphasizes what we’re supposed to be feeling about a scene, etc…), and the result is a movie that contains individual scenes that are good on their own, but that doesn’t work as a whole.
Probably the thing about Foxcatcher that’s earning it the most attention is its performances, which makes sense, because Steve Carell is really going out on a limb as du Pont, and Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum are burning an equal amount of calories playing David and Mark Schultz, a pair of Olympic gold medal earning brothers who get sucked into du Pont’s bubble of influence thanks to his obsession with wrestling, and eventually suffer negative consequences because of it. Each performer doesn’t work to the same result, however. Ruffalo is absolutely amazing here, disappearing so completely into the older brother David that you never once catch him performing. Tatum and Carrell are a different story. Tatum is so forcefully playing the younger brother Mark as a hulking, confused, lump of focus and simplicity, that to behold him on screen is like laying eyes on a cave man. But at times he goes a bit far and it feels like he’s doing a caveman impression—and poor Carrell fairs even worse. He’s really making a go of it as du Pont, but they’ve got him buried in so many stupid looking prosthetics and have dressed him in so many silly outfits that it’s never not clear that you’re watching Steve Carell play-acting a wacky character.
The main problem with Foxcatcher is that it’s boring though. Slow burns can be effective, especially when they’re building up to as big a moment as this film is, but this one goes beyond being a slow burn. This movie is barely ever smoldering. It’s so much longer than it needs to be, it spends too much time on scenes that don’t actively drive the narrative forward, and it asks us to be far too interested in the day to day existences of characters who exist as little more than blank slates with one critical personality flaw. There’s no life, no humor, no anything in this script other than a slight awkward tension in the interactions between the principals that’s just barely able to keep you from turning it off. Foxcatcher is a story that may have been worth 100 or so minutes of screen time, but at 134 minutes it gets sunk by its own weight.