It’s rare that I feel totally out of step with the world on a movie, but Foxcatcher is one such. Why all the raves? Steve Carell gives a very good, very understated performance as the socially awkward billionaire who decides to fund America’s 1988 Olympic wrestling team, in which his creepiness, aptly, creeps up on you. But part of the pleasure is the sheer surprise at seeing the comedian take on such a downbeat role. As Samuel Johnson said of female preachers, “It is like a dog’s walking on its hind legs. It is not that it is done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”
Chuck Tatum is similarly cast against type, suppressing his usual breezy charm as the dour wrestler Mark Schultz. He is aiming for a portrait of brooding physicality, but just comes across as entirely absent. Only Mark Ruffalo as his brother is allowed to play his usual role, as the dishevelled, easygoing nice guy, and does so with effortless rumpled charisma.
As for the direction, by Bennett Miller of Moneyball and Capote fame, it lost me from the off. I often like slow films where nothing much happens. Not this one. As son Sam said afterwards, with his usual perspicacity, “I’ve seen so many indie films recently where slowness is mistaken for depth, and where all the shots are in shallow focus to foreground the actors, to emphasise how good their performances are.”
With no one to root for, and a meandering narrative (it’s based on a true story, which does not always make for satisfying drama), I found the whole thing just alienating. Maybe I’d feel more kindly inclined if expectations hadn’t been raised so high by its five Oscar noms. But if you want to see an Oscar contender this week, I’d sooner recommend Birdman, Whiplash, The Theory Of Everything or (probably – I haven’t yet seen it) American Sniper.