I saw Foxcatcher last night and, I have to say, it left me feeling confused and unsatisfied.
I remember the events that the film depicts. Heck, I was working for the local city tabloid, the Philadelphia Daily News, at the time and we covered the story in all its tragic, inglorious loopiness, from start to finish and then some. And the end of this movie felt wrong.
So I checked, and now I know why. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that director Bennett Miller takes some pretty serious liberties with the timeline at the end of the film, when more than 6 years take place between scenes.
I get that the film is a true crime story about an audacious, mysterious murder, and it’s laying out its argument for why the killing happened; I just don’t buy the argument. And the idea that the film is, in some ways, about the battle for Mark Schultz’s soul feels a little self-serving to Mark Schultz, who is the only surviving principal in the case, wrote a book about it that served as source material for the film, and I think it’s fairly obvious suffers from some serious cognitive issues—and I wrote that before finding out his violent reaction to the film.
Summing up, the whole movie was long, dark, and overwrought. It would have benefited from 30 fewer movies—which I say about almost all 2 hour, 20 minute movies.
The performers were very good. Steve Carell did a nice, unfunny turn as John duPont, though let’s be honest: his job was to be daffy and inscrutable, and there was a lot of makeup to hide behind. Channing Tatum was really good at shoulder-acting as the aforementioned Mark Schultz, and Mark Ruffalo was a godsend as the only functioning human being, Mark’s brother Dave, in a claustrophobic tale. It was a great, unexpected performance from him.
If I watched a lot of movies, I wouldn’t put Foxcatcher on any sort of short list of “best of 2014.” But I didn’t see a lot of movies. Here are super-truncated reviews of those I did see, and a recommendation or lack thereof.
The Grand Budapest Hotel. There’s good Wes Anderson and not-so-good Wes Anderson. This was pretty heavenly stuff, though I liked Moonrise Kingdom more. Ralph Fiennes was a comic revelation as M. Gustave, and any movie where Tilda Swinton exits early and irrevocably is a good movie. And that “Lobby Boy” hat! My favorite of the year and heartily recommended.
A Most Wanted Man. Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s final film was pretty good, a John le Carre story of a mysterious Chechen Muslim who arrives illegally in Hamburg and becomes the rope in moral tug-of-war between various parts of the German security apparatus. It has a gut-wrenching ending that leaves you wondering how did Seymour Hoffman’s Gunther Bachmann not see the double-cross coming? And Rachel McAdams looked fabulous. Recommended.
St. Vincent. A Bill Murray vehicle (if you somehow didn’t get that during the actual story, the closing credits drove it home, with a one-shot, 2½-minute wet kiss of the guy). Melissa McCarthy was funny for about 30 seconds, which made me realize how unfunny she was the rest of the movie. Saccharine. Pat. Save your money.
Birdman. When Ed Norton exits stage left, about 2/3 of the way through this movie, it pretty much ended the fun—which, to that point, had been pretty fun—because it left Michael Keaton and Emma Stone to carry the movie home, and they weren’t helped by the scriptwriter (the nose bit, really??). But this thing vibrated when Norton was involved. Between this and his turn as the scout leader in Moonrise Kingdom, I’ve really enjoyed his recent work.
The Theory of Everything. Poor Mrs. Hawking, who gives it her all, has a bunch of babies, and gets dumped for Hawking’s nurse. I haven’t seen the other tortured genius movie about Allen Turing, but I think I’d opt for it. I’d do this at home, if at all.
Big Eyes. Christoph Waltz was a perfect jerk. Amy Adams looked great, in a ‘60s kind of way. And it ended when it should have ended, which is a lost art. 108 minutes. A little holiday (un)sweet to spark some discussion about the messy business of birthing a creative concept into big business. Well done, Tim Burton.
That was it. Really. Hope to catch up on a lot more: Boyhood, Interstellar, the Edward Snowden documentary, and other stuff I read about from supersmart-kids-of-friends and equally sharp colleagues who watch more and know more and are far more articulate on the subject.