'Foxcatcher': What the Critics Are Saying

Foxcatcher follows Steve Carell as John du Pont, a wealthy benefactor who pledges to support Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum) as he trains to win another medal, with the help of his older brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). The tragic drama, based on a true story, also features Vanessa Redgrave, Sienna Miller and Anthony Michael Hall.

Directed by Bennett Miller (Capote, Moneyball), the Sony Pictures Classics release from Annapurna Pictures opens in limited theaters on Friday, just after its AFI Fest premiere.

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Read what top critics are saying about Foxcatcher:

The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy calls it "mesmerizing in its incremental layering of a bizarre, tragic and thoroughly warped character study," surpassing Miller's previous award-winning films: "It's a sick, twisted story, which is to the credit of the filmmakers for having made fascinating, rewarding and absolutely worth telling." Of the cast, "you can't take your eyes off Carell; as if by some secret alchemy, the actor makes you believe that his character is an entirely uncharismatic man while delivering a completely charismatic performance. The combination of his thin, reedy voice with frequent heavy silences and odd vocal pacing is thoroughly unnerving," while "Tatum is a smoldering, festering piece of emotional raw meat, able to be manipulated this way and that by his benefactor" and "Ruffalo bestows his character with a profoundly genial nature."

Additionally, "the superb screenplay by E. Max Frye (Something Wild) and Dan Futterman (Capote) scores strongly on several fronts: Penetrating the mindset of the uppermost tier of longstanding East Coast wealth, making some very diverse characters psychologically plausible, and revealing in smartly judged stages the sickness of a man mentally ill, emotionally stunted and sexually stunted. In this moment of sexual forthrightness and pride, it's bracing and fascinating to behold such an exceptionally detailed and creepy study of monumental self-repression and the results it can yield. … Miller gets it all done here."

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The New York Times' Manohla Dargis notes that it's "beautifully acted and impeccably mounted, …light on historical details and heavy on atmosphere, character and chintz." However, she notes that the storytelling falls short of Capote and Moneyball; 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. … [Mark and John] never evolve into the kind of deep, meaningful figures who can carry the weight of Miller’s symbolism and all those American flags." Still, "Carell’s physical transformation is perverse, hypnotic and a touch distracting, and you may find yourself searching for the familiar face behind the pasty skin and large prosthetic nose that juts from John’s face like a cruel joke. Little by little, with long stares, an old man’s shuffle and strange phrasing, Carell transforms the character from a figure of ridicule into something truly grotesque."

From The New Yorker's Anthony Lane: "How relations between John and the Schultzes went rotten, and how grim the outcome was, is a matter of public record. If you don’t know the facts, try to keep it that way until you see Foxcatcher, the better to savor its strangeness." However, it may not be the story about America it hopes to be: "Does John represent anything larger than himself — a wider moral warping — or is he merely, as I suspect, a one-off whack job and a crushing bore? … Sometimes Foxcatcher is so busy wrestling with hefty themes that it forgets to entertain, but all its virtues are held in that magnificent clinch." Meanwhile, "so skilled are both Carell and Tatum that the movie itself falls prey to the characters’ repression," and Ruffalo "does for Foxcatcher what he did for The Avengers. He becomes the credible hulk."

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The  Los Angeles Times' Kenneth Turan says it is that American tale: "A despairing, intentionally disturbing film that draws us into a maelstrom of desperate emotions, it holds up a dark mirror to the American dream and does not like what it sees. … Though it never pushes an agenda, Foxcatcher is at its most acute in its insights into what we value in America, the deference our nominally egalitarian society pays to inherited wealth and power, how we allow ourselves to slide unawares into the most awful situations." The screenwriters have "artfully condensed as well as emotionally heightened the real story."

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw highlights its "trio of wonderful performances. Tatum's Mark is vulnerable and sad; Ruffalo's Dave is smart and professional and his shame at taking the DuPont shilling is correspondingly intense. And Carell's du Pont is a compelling monster — but a monster who inspires not fear but pity. … It is a gripping film: horrible, scary and desperately sad."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee