Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Foxcatcher Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Jami Ferguson
Olympic Gold Medal-winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is struggling in obscurity and poverty in Wisconsin when he is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to his lavish estate to form a team and to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Schultz seizes the opportunity, eager to step out of the shadow of his revered older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), a prominent wrestling coach and Gold Medal winner himself. With his vast financial resources and state-of-the-art training facility at Foxcatcher Farm, du Pont appoints himself head coach of the team, eager to win the respect of his peers and the approval of his condemning mother (Vanessa Redgrave). The dynamic between Schultz and du Pont deepens as Mark embraces his benefactor as a father figure. But du Pont's mercurial personality and psychological gameplay begins to weigh heavily on Mark's shaky self-esteem, undermining his abilities on the mat. When du Pont's favoritism shifts to brother Dave — who possesses the authority and confidence both he and Mark lack — the trio is propelled towards a tragedy no one could have foreseen.
Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is an Olympian, who catches the attention of the heir to the du Pont dynasty, John (Steve Carell). Mark and his brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo) train together and are invited to join Team Foxcatcher. Located on the du Pont estate, Team Foxcatcher will live and train together for the upcoming Olympic games. Mark, who recently spoke at an elementary school assembly for $20, doesn’t have a lot of prospects. He signs on quickly and joins the team, while Dave declines. Dave has a wife and kids and all of Mark’s possessions fit in the back of his tiny hatchback. Mark tells du Pont that his brother won’t be bought and the team gets to work. Du Pont hopes to see Mark win the World Championships and then the Olympic Games in Seoul.

At first Mark and John work well together. The du Pont estate is a lot to get used to, and Mark is instructed to give John’s mother her privacy and avoid the main house unless invited for dinner. John as built a state of the art wrestling facility but his mother feels the sport is “low”, unlike her passion – horseracing. Du Pont is slightly overweight and slow but he trains alongside the team and competes in a competition he sponsored. His mother comes to watch practice once and the team indulges John as he coaches them through some very basic moves. 

Dave later agrees to join the team as relationships are changing. Du Pont shows his temper and introduces Mark to some of his vices. He inserts himself into the training process where it is not needed and is not willing to just write the checks and remain silent. As competition draws near the athletes are stressed and John’s motives seem less innocent as they once did. He doesn’t seem like the man who wanted to bring glory to the team and the country with an Olympic win. 

Steve Carrell and Channing Tatum star in Foxcatcher in roles that are very different than their usual ones. Many know Steve Carrell from "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" The Forty-Year Old Virgin, Anchorman, or "The Office" and Channing Tatum from 21 Jump Street and Magic Mike. The stars may be associated with lighter roles (and stripping in the case of Tatum) but they go to a serious and very dark place in the Oscar nominated film. As you may have seen, Steve Carrell is nearly unrecognizable as John du Pont, and that’s only partially due to the prosthetic makeup. Carrell’s character develops and changes and I’d wager that on second viewing there would be a lot of details I overlooked, but would notice now that I know where the story arc will take him. He completely inhabits the character in appearance, sound and attitude.

Channing Tatum also delivers a great performance. He has certainly come a long way since his early roles and even recent lighter endeavors. We all knew Channing Tatum could physically play the part of an athlete but I had no idea he could convey such a compelling character. He is physically very hard on himself, taking a very method approach to this role. He has clearly trained hard and doesn’t appear to be acting like a wrestler – he is a wrestler. Even the cauliflower ear that’s often visible is authentic, not special effects and makeup.

Mark Ruffalo, as well should be commended. I only know him from 13 Going on 30 and The Avengers – and this role is definitely a departure. Tatum and Carrell stood out a bit more, but that may be because I had lower expectations for them. Director Bennett Miller let the drama and the tragedy unfold slowly and carefully. It’s a slow moving film, but it never makes you think “ok get to the point.” Instead you feel the tension building and wonder how and when it will all come to a head. While I don’t think the film deserved to win an Oscar, it certainly deserved to be nominated. The film's about much more than wrestling, or the du Pont family and it’s worth the wait to see it unfold.
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
Foxcatcher is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition. The film has a soft appearance but still maintains good clarity and fine detail. Whether it’s the sweat pouring from the actors or the skin changes in Tatum’s cauliflower ear there is plenty of visible detail in close-ups. Skin tones are accurate and texture is apparent. The film has a subdued look and it adds to the mood of the film, which is almost worn and dated. It all works together to sell the fact that this all took place in the 80s.
Audio (4 out of 5 stars)
Foxcatcher's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is passive, and reserved. It’s a dialogue driven film, with appropriate levels. It is supported, not driven by the music. When Mark speaks at the elementary school, it sounds as hollow as I remember my own grade school auditorium sounding. When the team runs through the woods you’ll hear the leaves crunch beneath their feet. At wrestling matches, the weight of the audience and applause feels appropriate and the sound is never overwhelming. 
Extras (1 1/2 our of 5 stars)
For a film on the award circuit, I expected a much lengthier list of special features.

The Blu-ray contains the following:
  • The Story of Foxcatcher (16:20): A comprehensive look at the cast, story arc, performances, makeup and direction. This featurette also talks about sound and input from Nancy Schulz (Dave’s wife). 
  • Deleted Scenes – Two deleted scenes.
  • Theatrical Trailer 
  • Previews for Sony titles.
Summary (3 out of 5 stars)
I admit to only watching Foxcatcher because it was one of the nominated films this year. I don’t care about wrestling and I'd rather enjoy Steve Carell in his comedy roles and Channing Tatum in his stripper roles. I knew this was a serious drama based on real life people and I often prefer complete works of fiction. Despite that, I am glad I gave this a chance because I did enjoy it. The three leading men did an amazing job of inhabiting characters unlike themselves. Sony has provided a respectable audio/video presentation but an amazingly brief list of features. I am the type of person that likes to watch the same movies over and over again but a film this heavy will sit on my shelf for a while before I decide to give it a second viewing. I will go back to it and expect to be even more blown away by the performances, noticing nuances I didn’t pick up the first time around when I didn’t know where the characters were headed. Foxcatcher is recommended for adult audiences; whether or not appropriate I doubt it would hold the attention of teen audiences.

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