Foxcatcher – A Review

Bennett Miller directs Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo in the psychological drama Foxcatcher. It is a story based on the life of mentally unstable heir to the Du Pont family fortune, John E. du Pont and his association with the Olympic wrestling heroes the Shultz brother.

Bennett Miller last took on the world of baseball in Moneyball and made a surprisingly entertaining movie from a story based on the dry world of player statistics and the mechanics of putting together a winning team. And with the Oscar winning Capote under his hat it was no surprise that my expectations were sky high from Foxcatcher, especially after the moody, creepy and intriguing trailers first hit the web. The end result unfortunately an indulgent and dull exercise at story telling.

If it took E Max Frye and Dan Futterman 8 years to put the script together it feels like the running time of the movie lasts just as long. I am all for moody methodical deconstruction of a character and the inherent drama involved. But with Foxcatcher the story telling is so staccato and the characters so two dimensional that it verges on being unbearable.

Steve Carell plays John E Du Pont the eccentric billionaire who offers Channing Tatum’s Mark Schultz a sponsorship and a place to come and live at the Foxcatcher ranch as he trains for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark’s brother Dave is played by Mark Ruffalo who is the only character who makes sense in this travesty. The story seems to suggest sibling rivalry in the eyes of Mark as he feels he is always in Dave’s shadow while Dave loves his brother unconditionally. There have been suggestions of a homosexual undertone to Du Pont and how he felt about Mark but I failed to see any. Carell’s Du Pont is certainly creepy but there is no depth to it, the one scene that stands out for me though was when Du Pont puts on a show for his own mother by delivering a pep talk – that to me the essence of Du Pont’s eccentricities, he is still a boy trying to win the approval of his own mother. The spiralling out of control of Mark and his anger towards Du Pont when he invites Dave at Foxcatcher seems abrupt at best and unbelievable at worst. Sienna Miller plays Dave’s wife and is for most parts unrecognizable and an almost unnecessary character.

The movie is scored beautifully by Rob Simonsen with an almost atmospheric soundtrack that seems to be always present but entirely unobtrusive. And the wide shots of the Foxcatcher ranch in the different seasons by Greig Fraser are beautiful as well. There is huge potential in the story with all the underlyin tension between the brothers, the patron and the benefactor and the two men competing to play the father figure, but all of that potential is blown to bits by an uninspired screenplay and overlong quite moments when nothing happens and you fail to stifle a yawn of two. The reason why Moneyball was so good must have had something to do with Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zallian because here Miller is let down by the screenplay.

I saw this before the Oscar nominations were out and am posting the review after the fact. Seeing Bennett Miller nominated for best director seems unfair to me. Having seen and loved Nightcrawler and The theory of Everything I would happily swap him for Dan Gilroy or James Marsh in a heartbeat.

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Bhag Milkha Bhag – A Review

Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra directs a chiseled Farhan Akhtar in Bhag Milkha Bhag a biopic on one of India’s very few renowned athlete “The Flying Sikh” Milkha Singh. Based on a script and screenplay written by the ad-man turned writer Prasoon Joshi, Mehra tries to cover absolutely every aspect of Milkha Singh’s life ranging from his motivation to joining the armed forces to the reason why he joins the athletics to his childhood traumas.

Farhan Akhtar a normally fit actor has undergone an epic transformation in terms of embodying the physicality of a premiere athlete. Outside of the physical transformation there isn’t much to applaud Akhtar for as he is saddled with a directionless script and a sagging storyline that aimlessly wanders between flashbacks. Akhtar manages to turn on the charm in the few moments he is allowed by the scripts where he is allowed room to breathe. Sonam Kapoor who plays Akhtar’s love interest is competent in the minuscule role that barely has 3 spoken lines. Prakash Raj plays the Army captain in-charge of the unit where Milkha Singh joins and in continues the tradition of Bollywood movie using Raj for comedic purpose only. The two supporting cast members who shine are Pawan Malhotra who plays Singh’s coach and Divya Dutta who plays Singh’s sister. These two carry the heart of the movie on their shoulder and are responsible for some of the tenderest moments of the movie.

The biggest problem for me is the story, as a biopic in its earnestness it tries to cover all aspects of Milkha Singh’s life and seems like a series of made-for-tv episodes. It never pulled me in and made me concerned about the fate of Milkha Singh and that for a biopic is detrimental. The direction relies all too heavily on traditional story tropes of the underdog story and the predictability of it after a while begins to take its toll on you.

Mehra entrusts Binod Pradhan with cinematography and it is a success from a purely visual standpoint. The scenes of Milkha Singh training in Leh while of no significance to the story are shot beautifully framing the stark landscape in all its natural glory.

Music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy fails to deliver a single memorable track while still manages to be a successful background score especially with the folksy songs voiced by Daler Mehandi .

The lack of any editing and a directionless story telling cripples what could have been a fantastic portrait of a deserving national hero to one that is riddled with clichéd plot points.

Another gripe I have is with the Indian audiences, we are so easily swayed by the India-Pakistan rivalry that no matter what form of sports it be the moment India bests Pakistan all the sins are forgiven and the same is true here. In what is the seminal moment in Milkha Singh’s life is reduced to whistles and hoots as he crosses the finishing line. Or perhaps the problem lies with me and I don’t know how to enjoy a movie.

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Watch this movie if you want to spend 3 hours counting every pulsating muscle and bulging vein in Farhan Akhtar’s body , but if you want to enjoy a well-made cleverly written biopic about an Indian athlete watch Paan Singh Tomar instead.

Clearly the movie is a critics darling at this point with most giving it a 5 star rating. I would love to hear your thoughts on the movie and what you liked about the movie!