Sunday, October 12, 2014

NY Film Festival: FOXCATCHER

In an acting tour-de-force, Steve Carell throughout the film Foxcatcher, keeps his head raised at an unnatural, arrogant angle, as if to make sure his was above everyone else's -- a preening peacock with bottomless pools for eyes. His voice a gentle whisper that is delivered, deliberately and aristocratically, from half-opened lips. A prosthetic Roman nose giving him the proper patrician look of a bored emperor. This is the actor's approach to playing John E. du Pont and the events surrounding the true story of the billionaire, heir to the DuPont chemical fortune, who in the 1980s, with an air of dangerous jingoism, decided to sponsor the American wrestling Olympic team at his Pennsylvania home, the country estate Foxcatcher, where in the old days the blue blood Brahmins of the Northeast gathered to participate in elaborate English fox hunts. Mr. Carell's approach to his complex character not only works, but has become the surprise stellar performance of the New York Film Festival, already gathering plenty of early Oscar buzz.

Directed with great intensity by Bennett Miller, the cast also includes Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo as brothers Mark and Dave Schultz, Olympic gold medal wrestlers who are brought to Foxcatcher to be the anchors of the team that du Pont aims to coach and lead to victory. Former teenage actor from John Hughes's Sixteen Candles, Anthony Michael Hall appears as duPont's assistant, while the great Vanessa Redgrave has a cameo as Jean du Pont, John's octogenarian, wheelchair bound mother, who sees her son's decision to sponsor Olympic wrestling as beneath the family's dignity.

Following the real events of this story, du Pont first seeks the brutish Mark Schultz and lures him to Foxcatcher. Mark's humdrum life of morning training and eating ramen by night at his shabby apartment is now replaced by an existence in the lap of luxury. Before long, Mr. du Pont is introducing him to alcohol, cocaine, and dinner events with Washington DC movers and shakers. And as Mark's life heads into a hedonistic twisted relation with the billionaire, their complex father-son relationship rapidly derails.  That's when du Pont brings in the more gregarious Dave and his family to Foxcatcher to coach the team. Mark, who has always been in the shadow of his older brother, is unhappy about this. The entire film begins to take on the rhythms of a ticking time bomb, which eventually explodes in a series of events that ultimately leads to a ghastly murder.

Under Miller's direction, Greig Fraser's cinematography produces warm bright colors and beautiful wintry images. Likewise, Rob Simonsen's ominous score is full of chilling, subtle moments. If you enjoyed Capote and Moneyball, Mr. Miller's previous films, I am sure you will find Foxcatcher a thrilling experience that explores the temptations of wealth and the abuses of power.

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