Tag Archives: Steve Carell

Movie Review: Foxcatcher (2014)


If you don’t know the true story behind Foxcatcher, then I suggest you avoid reading anything about the movie — apart from this spoiler-free review, of course — and anything about its real-life characters, American Olympic wrestling brothers Dave and Mark Schultz, as well as multimillionaire philanthropist John du Pont.

I know I say that about every movie, but in this case it’s really for your own good. Foxcatcher is one of those slow, contemplative films so doused in melancholy that you know it will either end up turning around into something inspirational or that something tragic is going to happen. Not knowing what will transpire, however, makes all the difference in the world in terms of the film’s emotional payoff after sitting through more than two hours of anticipation.

That’s not to say Foxcatcher doesn’t deliver the goods if you know the background, for it’s a story so remarkable — with characters so conducive to psychological drama — that you’ll tend to forget it’s all based on true events.

There’s the young wrestler, Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), who has low self-worth — despite being an Olympic gold medalist — from living in his older brother’s shadow and a lack of financial stability. There’s Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), the more confident and savvy of the siblings whose career is tied down by his commitment to his wife (Sienna Miller) and children. And then there’s John du Pont (Steve Carell), the old, mysterious loner with mommy issues who wants to use his incredible wealth and power to build a patriotic national wrestling team with the Schultz brothers as his headliners.

Together, they form a tense triangle of power politics driven by money, loyalty, manipulation and control, all of which takes place before a backdrop of the competitive and often cutthroat world of amateur wrestling.

That description may make Foxcatcher sound like some kind of exciting thriller, though the pace is actually deliberately snail-like at times, full of solitary moments of silence, contemplation and self-reflection. Even the wrestling scenes are intentionally muted so that you don’t get any of that manufactured adrenaline that typically comes with Hollywood spots movies. But the emotions are undoubtedly there, and they actually feel more genuine and amplified. Those who have seen director Bennett Miller’s other acclaimed films Capote and Moneyball, will have an idea of the style I am referring to.

The three main actors have received critical acclaim for their performances, especially Carell and Ruffalo, who received Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, respectively. To be honest, I actually liked Tatum’s performance the most. Far from just a beefcake, he was terrific at projecting Mark’s obvious lack of self-esteem and desire for approval. Ruffalo was very good too, though he’s always at that level, while I would have been fine had Carell missed out on he nomination in favour of Selma‘s David Oyelowo. Not to say Carell wasn’t great in this, but he still reminded me of Steve Carell behind all the makeup.

Interestingly, after watching the film, I went online to check out what their real-life counterparts looked like. I was surprised to discover that none of them really had much of a resemblance, except for maybe Tatum, though it’s a stretch to call him a lookalike of Mark Schultz.

One of the things about the film that I liked — but recognise others might be frustrated by — is how the relationships, motives and states of mind of the characters are left ambiguous and open to interpretation. Was it mentor and student, coach and wrestler, father and son, brother and brother, or all of the above? And was I imagining things or was there even something sexual lurking beneath the surface? I have a feeling Miller wanted to let the audience decide for themselves so they can try to make sense of why things turned out the way they did in the end.

That said, Mark Schultz and some other wrestlers have already confirmed that Foxcatcher more or less made up the dynamics of the relationships and the character traits of the central trio. For the record, however, Schultz eventually recanted some of his criticisms of the film and against Bennett (who is up for Best Director), saying that he “loved” the film.

I personally found Du Pont to be by far the most fascinating character, and was naturally disappointed that his psyche was not explored in as much depth as it probably ought to have been. That said, such an endeavour would have added more time to a movie that was already feeling a little on the long side, and in any case I understand that the screenplay was based on Mark Schultz’s book and thus from his perspective.

Flaws and creative licenses aside, Foxcatcher works as a compelling yet disturbing drama powered by three excellent performances and the direction of a master storyteller. I have a feeling it will go down as one of the more memorable films of 2014.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Dinner for Schmucks (2010)

I’ll admit, the first time I saw the preview for Dinner for Schmucks, I was mightily unimpressed.  To put it bluntly, it looked stupid and unfunny.  I even though the other preview, for The Other Guys, was more promising.  Well, I was wrong.  While Dinner for Schmucks was definitely stupid, it was actually pretty funny too.

Starring Paul Rudd (one of my favourites) and Steve Carrell, Dinner for Schmucks is a farce comedy loosely based on the 1998 French film, Le Diner de cons (The Dinner Game).  It’s framed around this concept of a kind of high society dinner where each guest brings a moron with them, and the guest with the biggest moron wins.

However, the dinner itself only plays a relatively small part of the film, which makes the title a little misleading.  Most of it is centred around the relationship between Tim (Rudd), the immensely likeable financial executive is desperate to climb his way to the top to impress his girlfriend Julie (Stephanie Szostak), and Barry (Carrell), the hopeless tax agent who likes to taxidermy mice for dioramas.

In terms of plot, Dinner for Schmucks is exactly how you would expect.  We’ve seen films like this before.  In fact, Paul Rudd’s I Love You, Man, is eerily similar, just with slightly different characters.  You, Me and Dupree is another.  It’s the classic straight man meets dufus and dufus turns straight man’s life upside down.

However, in terms of laughs, Dinner for Schmucks is very unpredictable, largely thanks to the amazing supporting cast of complete weirdos that makes it one of the most random films I’ve seen in a while.  Not much makes sense, and you can accept that ignore all logic and common sense, then you might find yourself laughing out loud like I did.  Some of it was unfunny, but some of it actually was.

I was particularly pleased to see the hilarious Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Conchords playing a misunderstood artist, and it was great to see his number one fan from that show, Mel (Kristen Schaal) play Rudd’s secretary Susana.  Another standout was Lucy Punch, who plays the obsessive Darla.  Zach Galifianakis (from The Hangover) was a little more uneven as Barry’s boss, but still provided some decent laughs.

The two biggest problems I had with the film were the believability of Steve Carrell’s character (as much as I wanted to believe him he was too inconsistent at times) and the length (114 minutes), which was way too long.  They could have easily cut 20 minutes from it and made it a better, tighter film.

Nevertheless, on the whole, Dinner for Schmucks was signficantly better than what I had expected.  Barry’s taxidemied mice dioramas were done extremely well and were very cute, and the execution of the more ‘poignant’ scenes were handled with sufficient care.  Dinner for Schmucks was by no means perfect, but as far as farce comedies go, it’s one of the better ones.

3.5 stars out of 5