2014 / Best Director

Film #517: Foxcatcher (2014)

While spending five years looking at over five hundred Best Picture nominees I found it increasingly strange that not every nominated movie also received a Best Director nod. It was as if the Academy was saying that the film was good in other ways but hadn’t been directed particularly well and I feel that that’s a slap in the face to some of the more unlucky directors. At the same time I feel it’s a bit odd to tell someone that the film their direction of a film was solid but overall the movie lacked qualities befitting a Best Picture. A shocking 110 films fit into the category of having a Best Director nomination without cropping up in the Best Picture field. We start with the most recent example of this sort of movie in the form of Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher.

I think that Foxcatcher’s Best Director nomination is even stranger when you consider that this year’s Best Picture field featured eight movies, four of which were apparently not directed well enough to the Academy’s liking. So spare a thought for Damien Chazelle, James Marsh, Ava DuVarney and Clint Eastwood whose Best Picture nominees were overlooked in favour of Bennett Miller’s film. Both of Miller’s previous films, Moneyball and Capote, were nominated for Best Picture and showed that the director had a talent for creating memorable and quirky biopics. Foxcatcher was no different as it centred around the murder of wrestler Dave Schultz by the philanthropist and wrestling coach John E. du Point. Like his previous works, Foxcatcher worked best as a character study focusing both on du Point and Dave’s younger brother and fellow wrestler Mark. Miller doesn’t overcrowd the screen with too many characters and instead spends time initially letting us get to know Mark. Mark’s life is presented as quite mundane as he constantly lives in the shadow of his more famous brother. Eventually when Mark is hired by du Point he sees it as an opportunity to break out on his own however he soon discovers that his benefactor is anything but normal.

If I have one criticism of Foxcatcher then it’s the way it presents the character of du Point who seems to go from slightly unhinged mummy’s boy to gun-wielding maniac in the space of a few minutes. Obviously with the main source text for the film being Mark’s first hand account of events, du Point was never going to be presented as a saint. But I feel that all that Miller and writers Dan Futterman and E. Max Frye tell us is that du Point may harbour homosexual desires towards Mark due to the way he looks at him. The other slightly odd thing about du Point is the relationship he has with his mother and the fact that she doesn’t see wrestling as a proper sporting achievement. I just felt that, for a film that was well-paced to begin with, Foxcatcher seemed to be rushing to the finish line. One thing I will say is that Foxcatcher does have respect for wrestling as an art form and the scenes focusing on the various workouts and championships are ably captured on film.

Alongside Miller’s Best Director nomination, Foxcatcher’s script also garnered a nod as did the excellent hair and make-up designers. Both Mark Ruffalo and Steve Carell also received nominations for their roles as Dave and du Point respectively. I personally have to question Ruffalo’s nomination as his performance as Dave wasn’t that much of a highlight as his character was sort of presented as the normal one. If anything I would’ve given a nomination to either Channing Tatum as the slightly naive Mark or Vanessa Redgrave who chews the scenery as du Pont’s overbearing mother. However it is Carell who runs away with the film as the icy du Pont as he masters every mannerism and is especially captivating in the final moments of the movie. As an actor who is primarily known for his comic roles I thought Carell adapted to drama perfectly and I hope this marks a change of pace for the former office actor.

All together I wasn’t blown away by Foxcatcher in the way I thought I might be and if anything I feel that it’s the weakest of Miller’s three films. Although his direction was possibly one of its strongest elements I would’ve preferred to have seen Whiplash’s Damien Chazelle get the nomination over Miller. I have to say though watching this film has got me excited from what this next chapter of the challenge might bring and I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for me behind the corner.

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