Review of Foxcatcher (SPOILER WARNING)

So in my attempts to keep this blog up to date with nothing but the latest cinematic offerings (and since it is Oscar season) here is my thoughts on Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher Synopsis (off wikipedia)

When wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to move to his estate and help form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics, Mark sees a way to step out of the shadow of his charismatic brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). However, du Pont begins to lead Mark down a dark road, causing the athlete’s self-esteem to slip. Meanwhile, du Pont becomes fixated on bringing Dave into the fold, eventually propelling all three toward an unforeseen tragedy.

Foxcatcher Review

It seems that Foxcatcher has received nothing but lavish praise. Critics love it and it has been nominated for five Academy Awards including for Script, Director, Leading Actor and Supporting Actor.

Given this and my knowledge of the ending I went into Foxcacther expecting to see something special. Review spoiler alert I didn’t.

Yes, the film is really well acted (and the makeup is great) but the characters are one note, the film is overly long and in short the film is not as interesting or clever as the critics and director think it is.

Foxcatcher revels in explaining or attempting to explain character motivations not with dialogue but with actions. The film begins with a long twenty to thirty minute sequence or wrestling and day to day routine. Little to nothing is said but the characters are being developed anyway.

The main character Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) for instance is shown to be leading a lonely life in which he is overshadowed by his brother Davis Schultz. This is interesting enough in theory and in particular you can see why the critics loved it.

As the film drags on though the one-dimensionality of the characters becomes painfully apparent and the film collapses under it. You see exposition through lack of dialogue only works where there is ambiguity where there are multiple interpretations for the actions of characters i.e. in situations where the characters are interesting. The problem is though that the Foxcatcher characters aren’t interesting.

Mark Schultz didn’t know his dad and is looking for a father figure whilst trying to climb out of his brother’s shadow. John ‘Eagle’ Du Pont (Steve Carrell) meanwhile has crippling emotional issues with the distant mother who he cannot please. This is told in cliched and hamfisted ways. A ‘key’ character moment for example is when Du Pont tells Mark that his mother paid his only childhood friend to be his friend. David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) meanwhile is essentially perfect.

If the dialogue lacking and the characters flat the director then doubles down on the film with an overly long run time and lots of scenic shots of the Foxcatcher estate.

After giving Foxcather a good kicking I will conclude by giving it some deserved but qualified praise. The murder scene at the end it is brutally arresting and dramatic. It comes about 30 minutes too late to save the film even more disappointingly it may have succeeded if the scene had been edited into the beginning and everything had been shown in flashback.

As it is then Foxcatcher just didn’t grip me.

Thoughts on Zero Dark Thirty (Spoiler it’s overrated)

zerodark30As part of my mission to populate this blog with nothing but reviews of the latest films I thought I would take some time to express my thoughts on Kathryn Bigelow’s supposed masterpiece Zero Dark Thirty.

I had intended to catch Zero Dark Thirty (hereon after referred to as 0D30 as I can’t be bothered to type out 16 characters) on the big screen and then on DVD but for whatever reason I never got round to it.

So I finally caught 0D30 a couple of days ago and I’ve got to say I was supremely underwhelmed. The film should have been right in my wheelhouse. I enjoy politics. I enjoy serious films that talk about serious subjects. The West Wing is one of my favourite TV shows but whilst West Wing was, sadly, fictional 0D30 was based on real life so it should be theoretically better.

Instead, I found the film to be dull and boring. It completely failed to capture the tension or importance of hunting for the mass murderer Bin Laden. In short I thought it was a very poor film.

Before going on I just want to get state this point. When I am criticising the film please do not think I am criticising the people who hunted down and killed him. My criticism is leveled just on the actors, directors and script writers not on the real people.

So here is my big point if Bin Laden wasn’t who they were hunting this film would not have got any kind of recognition. It was only the mystic of hunt for Bin Laden that meant this film was so well liked. People who liked this film were just celebrating the death of an evil person rather than the film itself.

The film doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be a character piece or a factual documentary and as a result it fails to do either.

As a character piece I singly failed to connect with the central characters. The idea was that hunting Bin Laden was Maya’s (Jessica Chastain) Jonah, her white whale, her obsession. Jessica Chastain failed to communicate this to me.

In part this seemed to be because the film wanted to follow events it didn’t want to take any dramatic license because of the weight of its subject.

So instead of developing the character you just sit around watching Maya do the actual leg work of finding Bin Laden i.e. what a documentary would do. However, whilst a documentary would briefly explain the leg work and fast forward to the end result or next clue in 0D30 we see all the leg work played out in dull detail with little payoff.

The film is mind numbing. There is no sense of urgency. There is no tension. It is vaguely accepted that the terrorists are plotting things but the film completely fails to introduce a ticking clock or give a sense of the strength of the terrorist organisation.

Now this might have been acceptable if the film was going to be taking any sort of opinion on the politics of the War on Terror or water boarding trainees. If it was drawing out the events to investigate them however, it wasn’t doing this.

I remember at the time there was a lot of controversy over the film supposedly advocating or criticising torture. As a result I was expecting the film to explore this issues in depth or to at lest take a position on torture. I doesn’t do this. It was incredibly even handed in its treatment of the issue of torture.

This might be an advantage in a documentary but in a film I am expecting something more. Even if it was just two characters discussing the merits amongst themselves. However, presumably because this didn’t happen in real life the film felt completely unable to do this. It was shackled by its desire to be a documentary.

So when you get down to it there is no political discussion, no character development and no tension. If you want to be entertained and informed about the hunt and assassination of Bin Laden watch anyone of the documentaries about the Hunt for Bin Laden. I’d particularly recommend the one the UK’s Channel 4 did.

Don’t bother watching Zero Dark Thirty though. It is perhaps the most overrated film I have ever seen. It never makes its mind up about whether it is a documentary or a character piece. In all truth it was probably made to soon after the events of Bin Laden’s depth for it to offer any worthwhile comment or insight on them.

In the cold light of day how it got nominated for five oscars is baffling.