"Mother, I am leading men. And I am giving America... Hope."
John E. du Pont (Steve Carell)
The story of John Eleuthère du Pont, a member of the mighty du Pont weapons empire, and the Schultz brothers, perhaps the greatest Olympic wrestling champion brother team, is a dark spot on America's sporting history. Bennett Miller's latest dip into the world of American sporting mavericks is a distinct tonal shift from his earlier Moneyball, but is also one of the most compelling and unsettling films to come out of Hollywood for quite some time. Detailing the rise and fall of one rich man's desire to lead the American Wrestling team to Olympic glory, at the heart of this uncompromising fable is three standout performances from three very different types of American actor - the matinee idol (Channing Tatum), the comedian (Steve Carell) and the Method man (Mark Ruffalo). Such diverse characteristics for an ensemble - but each performance is pure film alchemy. Ruffalo is always masterful in his work and his paternal & loving Dave Schultz is the closest in spirit to the audience's viewpoint as he enters this bizarre scenario. Carell is almost unrecognizable under the prosthetic nose and squinting eyes as du Pont, but his transformative performance is laced with unknown threat and paranoid confusion, banishing away all memories of Brick Tamland for the film's duration. And then there is Tatum - arguably the standout of the group, whose isolated and vulnerable "lunk" Mark searching for acceptance and recognition is the film's real emotional core.
Miller and his writers shade every scene with palpable unease and a veritable sense of dread. What does this strange rich guy really want to achieve with his plans for the wrestling team? Maternal acceptance, paternal longing, the need for glory... Miller and his crew weave each strand of these themes into the film, leaving the audience to interpret whatever they can from this tragic true story. Some have criticized the film for suggesting unmerited homo-erotic undertones to proceedings (the real Mark Schultz included), but that would be to debase events. The overwhelming need for connection is the film's message - a sensation that everyone has felt at some stage in life. And despite the odd bum note (the loss of Tatum during the final act is truly felt, for example) Miller and his team have crafted a masterful American modern sports drama - one that will stay with you long after you leave the auditorium.
One of the most powerful films about sport ever made, Bennett Miller's Foxcatcher is a masterpiece of acting, writing and direction. Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo all hit career-best levels of intensity and skill in a film that pins you into submission from beginning to end.
"Shave off that pathetic goatee. Get some surgery. Sixty's the New Thirty, motherfucker!"
Mr. Michael Keaton, welcome back to the big time, Sir!
Perhaps that is a little unfair - Keaton has been providing solid output on the sidelines for quite some time, working with the likes of Will Ferrell (The Other Guys) and Tom Hanks (Toy Story 3). But there is no doubt that Keaton has not hit the heights of his Tim Burton-directed stints as troubled vigilante Batman for a while. Well his agents are certainly ironing their shirts and pressing their suits in anticipation of all the big scripts that should start pouring through their mailboxes... And deservedly so. For Keaton is a revelation in director Alejandro González Iñárritu's jet-black comedy-drama about a washed-up, former Hollywood megastar searching for meaning to his life by putting on a vanity project on Broadway, with all the farcical and psychological implications one can imagine this side of Noises Off! Not that Keaton is alone in attracting superlatives - Edward Norton has arguably never been better as Method-craving prima donna stage actor Mike Shiner, consistently battling Keaton's Riggan Thomas in a hilarious dick-measuring contest of talent and ability. Emma Stone proves again why she is the most exciting young actress of her generation, while supporting actors (players?) Zach Galafianakis, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough add rich threads to the film's tapestry.
Iñárritu has really hit his stride here. Babel was a bit of a slog for many viewers - constant wallowing in life's misery get boring quickly - but it is so refreshing to see this immensely talented helmer hit his funny bone. His cinematic mastery helps what could have been a stagey, flat production soar from all corners of the screen - with Emmanuel Lubezki's camera whirling around on stage and backstage, seemingly in one single take (a master stroke for anyone looking to adapt any stageplay for the future!). A perfect visual blending of the mundane and the surreal keep the audience on tenterhooks, never in complete assurance that what is playing out is for real or just in Riggan's head. And Iñárritu & his co-writers inject some genuine pathos amongst all the on-stage erections and late-night streetwalks in your underwear - every character and conversation is wonderfully nuanced and pained by life's troubles. Yes, yes we get it, actors are struggling to find their place on this Earth - nothing that hasn't been said before. And for sure, it is easy to see the parallels between Riggan and Keaton in real life - the shadow of the Dark Knight was long and black over Keaton's subsequent career. But there is no getting away from it, as Lindsay Duncan's bitter theatre critic points out - the unexpected virtue of ignorance is something to behold indeed.
Funny, moving, audacious, original - all this and more from director Iñárritu and his magnificent ensemble. And Michael Keaton is about to soar again... Sixty really could be the New Thirty.
"What is filmmaking but groping in the dark?" - Alexander Payne