Since Sony Pictures released the first images of Steve Carell‘s drastic transformation into real life antagonist John du Pont, critics have been chomping at the bit to see “Foxcatcher.” But did the Oscar hopeful, which is based on a harrowing true story, live up to the hype?
So far the reviews have been mostly positive, with near unanimous praise for the performances of Carell and co-stars Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, who portray Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz. But at least one critic accused the filmmakers of trying to hard to garner favor with Awards voters.
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TheWrap‘s own critic, Sasha Stone, reviewed the film after its Cannes Film Festival premiere in May. She praised director Bennett Miller’s effort, calling “Foxcatcher” another of his great films about the American dream.
Stone was also impressed by Carell’s performance as the obsessed and lonely heir to the du Pont fortune, but was equally taken by his co-stars.
“Carell will likely be the focus of much of the praise for ‘Foxcatcher.’ He disappears into du Pont, presenting a dark and mostly unlikable lead. His mere presence is unsettling,” she wrote. “But his cold, heartless demeanor is offset by the other two leads, the extremely likable Ruffalo and Tatum.
“Tatum challenges himself here, unearthing vulnerability we’ve always known he had. He punishes himself for letting his integrity be bought and sold,” she continued. “Ruffalo gives the film its solid moral center: You do good work, you don’t get bought off, you stand up for what’s right. And it gets you nothing.”
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She went on to explain how Bennett Miller’s film would likely linger with viewers: “The pay-off here is more subtle than you might expect. But it is far more haunting, because this is a story that doesn’t have closure or uplift.”
The Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern praised Carell’s performance, too, along with the physical and emotional transformations he underwent to embody du Pont.
“What we see, courtesy of Mr. Carell’s literally self-effacing brilliance — the actor’s face has become a vaguely malign mask — is a predator of indeterminate purpose,” he wrote. “John, an amateur ornithologist as well as a sports enthusiast, looks down his prominent beak of a nose to survey his domain with a sharp, suspicious gaze.
“What to make of his flattened affect, his fondness for weapons, his perfervid patriotism, his spoken and unspoken preoccupation with dominance? The actor won’t give us a convenient handle on his character, be it political or psychosexual,” Morgenstern continued. “And the film won’t parse in simplistic terms what John does, or why he does it.”
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“Of the three main roles,” he added “Mr. Ruffalo’s is the most accessible, though not without its complexities and contradictions.”
The Christian Science Monitor’s film critic Peter Rainer was also blown away by all the actors’ performances.
“‘Foxcatcher’ features a trio of extraordinary performances (a quartet if you count Vanessa Redgrave’s cameo as du Pont’s cold-eyed mother, who regards wrestling as a ‘low sport’). Tatum gets at the self-loathing of a man whose professional victories are smothered by his personal anguish,” he wrote. “Ruffalo creates a character who is exceedingly ‘normal’ and yet rived with passion. The tenderness Dave shows his brother over and over again, even as Mark rejects him, is the most beautiful gesture in the movie.
“Carell, who has rarely attempted dramatic roles, so completely makes himself over as du Pont that he is almost unrecognizable.”
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The New York Post’s Kyle Smith wrote a mostly positive review of “Foxcatcher,” but he was occasionally unimpressed by the direction of Bennett Miller, who he seemed to think was pandering to the Oscar-voting crowd, which he felt were clear ploys on the part of director Bennett Miller.
“It’s too bad the film — based on a true story — embarrasses itself with that fatuous scramble for sociopolitical significance, because as a character study ‘Foxcatcher’ is mesmerizing, eerie and unpredictably weird,” he wrote.
Time Out New York’s film critic found the film to be far more problematic.
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“Arrestingly made yet oppressive, Bennett Miller’s feeble-brained sports movie focuses, like the director’s ‘Capote’ (2005), on a true-life crime story,” Keith Uhlich wrote. “The movie’s cynical thesis about the corrupting power of wealth is embedded in every frame: Cinematographer Greig Fraser (‘Zero Dark Thirty’) gives the impeccably composed imagery a blue-toned chilliness and shoots the actors in such a way that they all have the same sickly pallor.
“You can feel depravity eating away at the characters’ souls long before du Pont offers Mark his first hit of cocaine and the true downward spiral begins,” he added.