“Mesmerizing in its incremental layering of a bizarre, tragic and thoroughly warped character study, Foxcatcher sees director Bennett Miller well surpassing even the fine work he did in his previous two films, Capote and Moneyball,” begins the Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy. “Centered on an astonishing and utterly unexpected serious turn by Steve Carell, this beautifully modulated work has a great deal on its mind about America’s privileged class, usurious relationships, men’s ways of proving themselves, brotherly bonds and how deeply sublimated urges can assert themselves in most unsavory ways.”
“Chronicling the events leading up to the 1996 murder of Dave Schultz, the Olympic wrestling champion who tragically found the wrong benefactor in the Pennsylvania multimillionaire John E. du Pont, this insidiously gripping psychological drama is a model of bleak, bruising, furiously concentrated storytelling, anchored by exceptional performances from Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo and an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “Despite its hefty 134-minute running time, Foxcatcher doesn’t have an ounce of the proverbial narrative fat: If the screenplay, by Dan Futterman (Capote) and E. Max Frye, is relatively spare in terms of dialogue, it’s satisfyingly rich and thorny in its conception of the tightly wound triangle at its center, while Miller’s direction evinces the same sustained intensity and consummate control of his material that defined his first two features.”
“There is an unspoken emptiness that hangs boldly over Foxcatcher, which is sure to be one of the subtly darkest films made by a major Hollywood studio this year,” writes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. “The dread that sits over Bennett Miller’s superbly directed, bleakly dystopic view of American life is palatable in every moment without ever feeling overwhelming, simply sitting in the empty spaces that separate the physical bodies.”
“Deftly playing variations on one softly sinister note, Carell’s wittily grotesque performance fashions du Pont as the non-cartoon equivalent of C. Montgomery Burns—his feeble posture and listless, slurry vocal delivery a constant physical riposte to his delusions of grandeur.” Guy Lodge at In Contention: “Tatum and Ruffalo are no less superb. After Magic Mike and 21 Jump Street, Tatum’s versatile instinct for locating the insecure heart of the all-American lunk should no longer surprise us, but he’s entirely wrenching here as a man with no sense of self beyond the ideal he’s been instructed to emulate… Ruffalo must maintain a more even emotional keel throughout, subtler flushes of fury gradually entering his performance.”
“Foxcatcher is an enormous film,” declares Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, “an elegy for the destructive power of the myth of American exceptionalism, and how lofty ideals can become corrupted and perverted by the agendas of subconsciously terrified little men.”
For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “above everything else, it is a piercing insight into toxic mentor-ism, into competitive men and their terrible emotional need to find a father-figure to hate and to disappoint.”
Updates: “Miller has now made three consecutive features based on real-life people and/or events, and to my mind his films suffer from a failure of imagination, skimming lightly (but often self-importantly) over the surface of the verifiable,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “The film struggles to create a context in which the climactic murder seems inevitable, but the facts don’t support a psychological case study—all indications are that du Pont more or less lost his mind in the weeks leading up to the murder, whereas most of Foxcatcher takes place almost a decade earlier.”
“Enervated to the point of somnolence, Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher squanders inherently intriguing material… by sapping it of any dramatic or satiric potential in favor of a smothering mood of muted solemnity,” writes Budd Wilkins at the House Next Door. This is “a sluggish, molasses-y storyline showcasing two solid actors [Ruffalo and Channing] and Steve Carell, hiding behind a Mr. Burns-esque prosthetic nose and the beady, carrion-eager eyes of a peregrine falcon, doing what amounts to a feature-length SNL impression.”
“Foxcatcher is compelling enough as a pure mood piece,” finds the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, but “psychologically speaking, it never quite convinces…. The aim is Shakespearean tragedy, with Du Pont as the Iago figure. But the script doesn’t cut very deep into these characters, and Miller is forced to dramatize their conflict by drowning it in muted colors and piano plinks.”
“Tatum, a consummate physical performer, gets under the skin of Mark and goes deep,” writes Vulture‘s Kyle Buchanan. “There had already been a lot of buzz on Carell’s performance before Foxcatcher hit the Croisette, and rightly so…. But it wasn’t clear until today just how throughly integral Tatum is to the film, and how much of himself Tatum pours into his role.”
“Miller has always been intrigued by dramas based in truth,” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “But Foxcatcher is something dark and delirious, yet rigidly controlled: a film to be considered alongside David Fincher’s The Social Network and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master as a swirling, smoke-black parable of modern America.”
“For about a minute and a half,” writes Jordan Hoffman at Film.com, “it’s impossible to take Steve Carell’s enormous prosthetic schnozz in Foxcatcher seriously. But the spirit of Peter Sellers smiles over him and, in time, the associations we have of Anchorman and The 40 Year-Old Virgin blend in with the rest of the disquieting weirdness. Foxcatcher is his Being There, a weirdly half-comic, half-tragic role, which is especially creepy coming from someone who normally broadcasts big laughs.”
“The film’s wrestling sequences become obvious metaphors for other evolving and intersecting arenas of conflict,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com, “so much so that they have a seamless and gripping presence within the film, something I find unusual in a sports-oriented story. Restraint is key to Miller’s method, and one of the admirable things about Foxcatcher is the way tension and unease are built through what is implied but never quite stated.”
Updates, 5/21: “Once Miller lays all his cards on the table,” writes Time Out‘s Keith Uhlich, “you realize you haven’t been watching people struggling with the very real temptations of unchecked privilege, so much as fumbling blindly in a glib, gloomy satire of American exceptionalism.” Two out of five stars.
“The performances and cinematography are engaging but the themes are overstated in this gloomily somnambulant, two-hour-plus piece that’s focused more on mood and process than interpersonal complexities,” writes Aaron Hillis for Filmmaker.
“Miller gives his movies a journalistic kind of flatness,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “They don’t come down hard on any side. It’s mostly just the facts. That keeps Miller out of hot water. He said in the press conference after the morning screening that he didn’t want to make a political movie. But you’d like to see him dare.”
“May is eye-poppingly early to begin seriously talking about awards season,” grants Alison Willmore at Buzzfeed. “But there’s no arguing that Foxcatcher… is going to attract a lot of Oscar talk.”
“Even if Steve Carell’s performance in Foxcatcher—a terrific one—ends up being the most lauded in the film, what Tatum does is more complicated, and more wondrous,” writes the Voice‘s Stephanie Zacharek. “How, exactly, do you play an athlete who shuts down emotionally, as Mark does when Du Pont’s controlling monomania becomes too much to bear? An athlete may hide his feelings, but his body—so disciplined in a language all its own—is constantly in the way, inadvertently betraying secrets. Tatum pulls off the tricky feat of shading his character’s emotions without shutting down so much that the camera can’t pick them up. And his body, even with its firm arcs of muscle, is as graceful as a Brancusi poised to take flight; it tells us all the things Mark is afraid to say with his eyes. Tatum’s performance is a marvel of physicality, and surely one of the best we’ll see all year.”
Update, 5/23: “Complete with soft high-whine voice, gnomic pauses and an indescribable gait and body language—a panther with piles—Carell’s acting is a revelation,” writes Nigel Andrews in the Financial Times.
Update, 5/24: Variety‘s critics look back on Cannes 2014, and the conversation turns to Foxcatcher. Scott Foundas: “There are great American movies, and then there are great movies that take America as their very subject, from Greed and Citizen Kane to There Will Be Blood and The Social Network. Foxcatcher has that same, soaring ambition, and it can hold its own in that august company.” Peter Debruge: “Let’s not get carried away. The way I see it, Foxcatcher is Bennett Miller’s stab at making his own In Cold Blood, a logical goal for someone who admires that book enough to have made the film Capote…. Foxcatcher drew me in on the promise that all the energy I’d invested in it would pay off in the end, only to wind down with a whimper, depicting the crime and capture. (By contrast, In Cold Blood plunges deeper as the case develops.)” Justin Chang: “I’d suggest the chief satisfaction of Bennett Miller’s movie—and what distinguishes it from so many lesser American movies torn from the headlines—lies in its sheer volume of subtext, the subtle accumulation of thematic layers in the material.”