“A consummately eerie film about capitalism, delusion and obsession, Foxcatcher finds director Bennett Miller merging the homoerotic, opportunistic exploits of Capote‘s lead character with the insular sports-world insights of Moneyball,” begins R. Kurt Osenlund at Slant. “If viewed as part of a trilogy that critiques American institutions (be they the sphere of New York’s literati or the age-old fraternity of MLB favoritism), this would be the bleak ghost story of the group, constantly referencing our nation’s forefathers while depicting a recent past wherein ‘patriotism’ is a slice of twisted hyperbole.”
“John du Pont (Steve Carell) and Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) live in shadows,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “Mark’s is cast by his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), a man with a wife and kids who has always received more public attention. John’s mother (Vanessa Redgrave) leaves her son wanting purely by her dismissals of him, and he lives in the deep darkness of the legacy of his name. They also move differently than most people—John with his slumped posture and upturned nose; Mark with the heavy gait of a wrestler. In many ways, Bennett Miller’s excellent Foxcatcher is about what these two people have in common more than the differences that obviously define them. They may look completely different but their common insecurities are what lead to tragedy.”
“The funereal lighting scheme hints at where the story is going and, as in Capote, the morbidity is laid on a bit thick,” writes Adam Nayman at Cinema Scope, “but much of what’s here is adroit, from Tatum’s hulking, traced-out introversion (he’s like a polite, Midwestern golem) and Ruffalo’s effortless, tragic gravitas to the script’s neatly enfolded critique of private patronage in amateur athletics. That said, it’s unfortunate that Carell probably stands to gain the most in awards-season terms when his acting is probably the weakest aspect of the film.”
The New York Times‘ A.O. Scott disagrees: “Mr. Carell, consistently one of the funniest men in American movies (and, as the voice of Gru in the Despicable Me movies, an exceptionally lovable villain) is now also one of the scariest. His DuPont is at once an aristocratic enigma—peppering bits of dry wit among his gnomic and delusional pronouncements—a lost and tormented prisoner of privilege, and a man whose unchecked power makes him dangerous in ways the film leaves unstated until the very end.”
Jim Hemphill at Filmmaker: “It isn’t a far leap from du Pont’s neurotic, rambling monologues about American exceptionalism to the blowhards on talk radio who make their living selling the contradictory idea that we are both the greatest country in the world and headed toward unmitigated moral and economic disaster, an idea Foxcatcher examines from a multitude of perspectives with remarkable emotional and intellectual power. Yet it does none of this explicitly: the social and political implications of Miller’s material remain unstated, expressed purely via character and drama. The film’s complicated web of familial relationships and financial transactions yields a movie that’s almost impossible to characterize, a character-driven thriller with no generic contrivances and a black comedy with deep, profound empathy.”
“Tatum’s performance (as a big lug who just needs to feel special) says a lot about how the American plutocracy prevails,” suggests Noel Murray at the Dissolve. NPR’s Linda Holmes: “It’s been clear for quite a while that Channing Tatum has the goods, but he’s just wonderful here, tamping down the easy charisma he’s displayed over and over in favor of directing most of his energy inward.”
Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Updates: “The portrayal of du Pont is the film’s central conundrum,” argues Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot. “Though Foxcatcher would appear to cast an air of general empathy, it is ultimately pitiless in the way it builds the character of du Pont, in reality a quite tragic schizophrenic, into a vampiric villain…. It’s by distancing us from him that Miller tries to get at the film’s central ideas, which seem to be about the notion of a specifically American legacy and how people with or without money view themselves in the grand scheme…. The film is besotted with Carell’s damaged crackpot, and as he takes up most of the spotlight, it becomes increasingly difficult to get a handle on Tatum’s lunkhead pseudo-protagonist, especially as their bond turns sadomasochistic.”
Flavorwire‘s Jason Bailey: “Channing Tatum may not have the widest range, but he’s found a character perfectly suited to what he does well onscreen (perhaps better than anyone)—he finds the character’s physicality, and the vulnerability beneath. He hits notes of despair that are transcendent, and he’s doing so much in his last scene (without ‘doing’ anything) that it kind of knocks the wind out of you.”
Update, 10/11: For Nick Schager at the Voice, “the film’s air of chilly menace is as meticulously crafted as its psychological portraits. Bald and bespecled, Ruffalo brings both a hunched brawniness and prickly dignity to Dave, who becomes caught in a figurative tug-of-war with Du Pont for Mark’s loyalty and affection. The film’s true star, however, is Tatum [who] embodies Dave with a weighty mixture of regret, resentment, and determination, all of it tied up in the very same notions of American strength and manhood that plague du Pont.”
Update, 11/2: Dave Itzkoff profiles Carell for the New York Times.
Update, 11/9: Nigel Andrews interviews Miller for the Financial Times.
Updates, 11/10: Farran Smith Nehme in Film Comment: “Foxcatcher is both moral fable and updated, same-sex Gothic: a penniless young person is lured to a vast, sinister mansion owned by an aristocrat tormented by his past.”
“Though never less than careful and clever, it’s also a stunted and fiercely unhappy piece of work, straining hard to deliver home truths about a commonweal that has beaten itself out of shape,” writes Anthony Lane in the New Yorker.
Updates, 11/12: “Miller and screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman have thought through every scene and every line in Foxcatcher,” writes Noel Murray at the Dissolve. “Nothing is irrelevant. The film proceeds like a well-constructed argument.”
For Matt Singer at ScreenCrush, “the third act feels rushed and incomplete, and once John commits his heinous crime Foxcatcher ends with frustrating abruptness”; it “boils down what was apparently a very complex relationship between three men to a fairly simplistic dynamic with a ‘Mommy never loved me’ motivation.”
“The pieces of something important are here,” agrees Amy Nicholson in the Voice, “but none of it fits together. Instead, Foxcatcher is merely a very, very good character study with acting so fine that it’s frustrating it’s not in the service of a real, emotional wallop.”
Updates, 11/13: Miller “wants more than just an ordinary American sideshow, and he unwisely tries to expand the story when just telling it would have been enough,” writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. “At times he seems to be trying to resurrect the idea of two Americas that’s crucial to Capote, which tracks Truman Capote’s investigation into the murder of an ordinary family by a pair of killers. But there’s no one here like Capote to guide you through the murk and no one who gives the spectacle of human struggle its spark, as the baseball savant Billy Beane does in Moneyball. Mark and John make a fine odd couple in Foxcatcher (things get seriously weird at the farm), but they never evolve into the kind of deep, meaningful figures who can carry the weight of Mr. Miller’s symbolism and all those American flags.”
“Foxcatcher is a gripping yarn all the way through, even if we’re not entirely sure what the point is,” writes Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir. “Carell is so convincing, so unrecognizable and so profoundly chilling as John du Pont that you quickly move through the reaction of ‘Whoa! That’s Steve Carell with a fake nose!’ and out the other side.”
Foxcatcher “reaches for big insights about America’s obsession with winning and the dangers of unchecked entitlement, while simultaneously treating its real-life subjects like the stars of a Greek tragedy,” notes A.A. Dowd at the AV Club (where he’s also got a “spoiler space” piece on the film). “What it never quite does, however, is provide a convincing explanation—dramatic, psychological, or otherwise—for the incident it inexorably builds toward.”
For Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com, “in the end Foxcatcher proves impossible to embrace because of fundamental miscalculations in performance, direction and makeup, along with a certain clumsiness in the way that it tries to use its profoundly sad story to make some kind of grand statement about American values, or the lack thereof. If I had to make a list of movies I’m saddest about not having liked, this would rank near the top.”
“It’s understandable that Bennett Miller should have been fascinated by the du Pont-Schultz case and wanted to make a film from it,” grants David Thomson in the New Republic. “But sometimes the defense of ‘based on a true story’ evades both the real facts and their fictional potential.”
Updates, 11/15: Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope: “Leaving aside his Cannes prize for mise en scène, Miller isn’t exactly a director with an arsenal of visual strategies: he’s into grey, underlit interiors and languid but still conventional continuity editing, and that’s about it. But he hits paydirt with in this gently elongated and elegantly choreographed pas de deux.”
“Though only the terrifying penultimate scene takes place in the snow, all of Foxcatcher unfolds in an atmosphere of deep chill,” adds Slate‘s Dana Stevens.
“Miller imparts information visually more often than verbally,” writes Howard Feinstein for Filmmaker. “It helps to have as your DP someone of the caliber of Aussie Greig Fraser (Zero Dark Thirty, Bright Star), equally at home indoors and out.”
John E. du Pont and the Schultz brothers were unfamiliar names to Jonathan Romney when he first saw Foxcatcher in Cannes, “but on a second viewing, with everything now seeming to point irrevocably towards the outcome, Foxcatcher felt a lot more focused and coherent, and I appreciated the film’s qualities more,” he writes for Film Comment. “And yet conversely, it become slightly less intriguing: once you know the specific incident that’s coming, Foxcatcher becomes a coherent, outcome-focused true-life drama, whereas if you don’t, then it’s something oddly fragmented and perplexing, and certainly the damnedest—most eccentric and melancholic—sports movie you’ve ever seen. I’m glad I got to see both versions, if you see what I mean.”
“Miller keeps the energy low and the pauses cavernous so that the early du Pont scenes play like deadpan comedy—even if you know what’s coming,” writes New York‘s David Edelstein. “That’s the part that works…. Cinematically, Foxcatcher is more resourceful [than Capote]—visually, it breathes. But it’s still a true crime story bloated into looking significant.”
For the Atlantic‘s Christopher Orr, “as commendable as I find Miller’s refusal to force his story into a tidy narrative frame, to commit to one interpretation of the events or another, Foxcatcher is a reminder, too, of why this path is so rarely chosen. There’s something inevitably remote about a movie that refuses so ardently to get into the heads of its characters. The result is an easy film to admire, but a difficult one in which to invest emotionally, even when it enters into its final, tragic arc.”
Update, 11/18: Foxcatcher “is a case history in the deliberate ignoring of the misdeeds of the rich,” argues David D’Arcy at Artinfo. “It also reminds us of the idiosyncrasies that we are forced to accept and endure when the job of funding culture and sports is left to the wealthy.”
Updates, 11/23: “To Miller,” writes Stuart Klawans in the Nation, “murder is just one more damned thing that happens in a story filled with dread but no suspense: a fable of the misunderstanding, heartbreak, irony and absurdity that can abound in America when two social classes grapple in mutual desire and animosity.”
The New Yorker‘s Richard Brody: “Foxcatcher runs on static—it’s the story of extraordinary interference by emotional factors that get in the way of the smooth flow of philanthropic financing to a beneficiary who can make good use of it. The nature of that interference is the heart of the film—and that’s where it runs aground. Miller has made an intimate psychological drama that’s devoid of intimate psychology—it details the outward particulars of du Pont’s manipulations without probing their deepest implications, the connection between sex and violence.”
Foxcatcher “looks at how delusion becomes amplified when grown under the veil of privilege,” writes Glenn Heath Jr. in the San Diego CityBeat. “What’s more interesting, however, is how the blue-collar experience transcends this arrogance and misuse of power through iron will and dedication. One of the Schultz brothers understands this far better than the other, but the movie isn’t nearly as interested in his story.”
“What an odd movie,” writes Kelly Vance in the East Bay Express. “Carell, Tatum, Ruffalo, and Redgrave all give detailed, convincing performances, but the story, and the way it’s told, are so suffocatingly sick (that’s the only word for it) that they overwhelm the experience.”
But for Sam Adams, writing for the Philadelphia City Paper, “it’s a powerful simulation of the whirlpool of wealth, and how people sell themselves a little at a time and then suddenly all at once.”
Update, 12/9: Ray Pride in Newcity Film on Steve Carell: “I’ve missed a few movies he’s been in, have never seen more than a few seconds of The Office, and regret it for not a second. Voice and presence alike, he’s anti-screen charisma to my eyes and ears, a terrifying dark void in front of a camera…. But leave it to Bennett Miller, the director who made his friend Philip Seymour Hoffman, a bruiser of a man, into Truman Capote, to cast Carell ideally.”
Updates, 1/11: Writing for Film International, Christopher Sharrett explains why he’s found Foxcatcher to be “a compelling film at various subtle yet complex levels.”
“On a second viewing, the tragic dimension comes through more strongly,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw.
“Carell may have played things straight before, but not since Robin Williams in One Hour Photo has a comedian put so much clear water between himself and his back catalogue,” adds Mark Kermode in the Observer.
Update, 1/13: Adam Woodward talks with Miller and Carell for Little White Lies.