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"Foxcatcher" Starts the Oscar Race at Cannes, Like It or Not

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire May 19, 2014 at 1:48PM

Virtually unrecognizable behind a fake nose and altered voice, Steve Carell wowed critics who got a first look at Bennet Miller's long-awaited movie.
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Steve Carell in Bennet Miller's "Foxcatcher"
Steve Carell in Bennet Miller's "Foxcatcher"

Our three-month-long national nightmare of not talking about Oscar contenders is over, thanks to the largely ecstatic reception at Cannes for Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher," which is based on the true story of the relationship between Olympic wrestler Mark Schulz (Channing Tatum) and millionaire John DuPont (Steve Carell). By all accounts -- and the clip at the end of this post -- Carell is nearly unrecognizable, thanks not only to a prosthetic nose  but a total shift in his vocal register. (He also fattened up for the role despite the fact that the real DuPont was not remotely overweight.) "Foxcatcher" was widely expected to figure in last year's Oscar race, and despite the delay in its release, it appears those expectations have carried over without a hitch.

Reviews of "Foxcatcher"

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

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 the most unsavory ways.

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian

Bennett Miller's sports movie "Foxcatcher" -- based on a grisly true story -- is a superb tragicomedy of the beta-male, a nightmare of the also-ran and almost-ran. It is also a deeply strange story about a strange man whose insecurities were all too ordinary and explicable.

Mark Adams, Screen Daily

While much attention will be heaped on Steve Carell's prosthetic nose and his moody performance as troubled millionaire John Eleuthere du Pont, it is the nuanced performances by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum that act as the perfect balance for Carell's haughty obsessive. Director Bennett Miller's ability to let his story gradually develop and allow complex characters to be gently revealed is perfect for this intriguing period story that gathers momentum towards a shocking climax.

Alison Willmore, BuzzFeed

More than Oscar bait. It's a subdued, fascinating, and darkly American drama about talent, money, and power. Its characters talk about patriotism, morals, and family, but are entangled in relationships that are fundamentally and uncomfortably transactional. 

Jordan Hoffman, Film.com

For a movie about muscles and masculinity, there's the same catty head games as any thread on "Days of Our Lives." This is in no way a knock against the film, as director Bennett Miller's reserved style lets the inherent drama rise to a classicist level befitting the portraits that hang in Foxcatcher’s salons. 

John Bleasdale, CineVue

With Bennett Miller's Palme-worthy "Foxcatcher", we have a film which, despite devoting significant screentime to the sport of large men in tights, has as its main theme the absolutely corrosive effect of too much money on just about everything.

Justin Chang, Variety

After the flat, brown prairies of "Capote" and the ugly backrooms of "Moneyball," Miller here confirms his stature as a poet of plain-looking America, bringing us into a humdrum world of hotel rooms, locker rooms and school auditoriums. 

William Goss, Film School Rejects

Even if you know how the story ends, "Foxcatcher" skillfully thrives on that tension of the calm before the storm, the sadness of the void which lies between the cheering crowds, and the gulf between having everything and needing something that money can never buy.

Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher"
Channing Tatum and Steve Carell in Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher"

Eric Kohn, Indiewire

There's nothing especially surprising about watching du Pont's slow descent into fantasies of his managerial expertise, but Miller wisely leaves much about that process unstated. Similarly, the brothers don't talk about their feelings as well as they show them at work. The physical dimension of the sport in question often takes center stage, as the wrestlers express the frustrations they can't verbalize through muscular collisions and in closeups of their strained, flushed expressions.

Peter Labuza, 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. Miller is a director of these spaces -- spaces that have been hollowed out, leaving characters to need to sit, look, and think, as we often see with Channing Tatum's Mark Schultz.

Donald Clarke, Irish Times

Miller imposes a weighty solemnity on dialogue and action. The actors murmur their lines and wait an eternity for a response. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is muted and soupy throughout. Happily, the slow build of the story proves hypnotic and the excellent lead performances maintain interest throughout.

Guy Lodge, HitFix

If anything, the low-hanging ambience, immaculately sustained as it is, could stand a little more tonal ebb and flow -- the film is never less than riveting at 130 finely-sanded minutes, but mood gradually swallows the characters’ interior lives in an inexorable march toward tragedy. 

Jessica Kiang, Playlist

It's so many things at once and yet none of them is underdeveloped, and as thematically multi-stranded as the story is, tonally and narratively it is totally singleminded: 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.

Foxcatcher
Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in "Foxcatcher"

Budd Wilkins, Slant Magazine

Enervated to the point of somnolence, Bennett Miller's "Foxcatcher" squanders inherently intriguing material-- the murder of Olympic gold medalist David Schultz by eccentric scion John E. du Pont -- by sapping it of any dramatic or satiric potential in favor of a smothering mood of muted solemnity.

Robbie Collin, Telegraph

Miller has always been intrigued by dramas based in truth, and "Capote" and "Moneyball" were both widely recognized as great pictures, impeccably crafted. 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.

Zach Lewis, Sound on Sight

Though saturated with grandiose metaphors and a message worn carelessly on its sleeves, "Foxcatcher" confirms Bennett Miller as one of the best character directors working in Hollywood.

Adam Woodward, Little White Lies

As the three men grapple for control, the film builds steadily towards a violent conclusion, one that Miller subtly alludes to without revealing precisely how it will unfold. But Miller doesn't leave us out there in the cold. He throws us right back into the ring, capping things off with a familiar, rousing chant that prompts us to reflect on the lies and propaganda that lead young Americans to sacrifice everything in the name of national pride.

Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

I’m still puzzling through why, on a first viewing, "Foxcatcher" strikes me as less wholly successful than Miller's previous films. The cool, considered atmosphere of "Capote" and "Moneyball" seems more studied here, and the rhythm occasionally slackens.

Keith Uhlich, Time Out

This is all very gripping in the moment, in no small part due to Ruffalo and Tatum, who counter Carell's awards-baiting garishness with a lived-in sense of brotherly envy and affection. Once Miller lays all his cards on the table, however, 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.


This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Bennett Miller, Mark Ruffalo


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