Superb acting makes up for “Foxcatcher’s” muddled plotline

“Foxcatcher” was recently nominated for five Oscars. It was also nominated for three Golden Globes, two BAFTA Film Awards, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, an Art Directors Guild Award and two Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards. However, unlike its Olympic gold-medal-decorated main characters, “Foxcatcher” couldn’t quite pull ahead of the competition.

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That’s not to say “Foxcatcher” isn’t a good film. Its cinematographic style, reminiscent of a disquieting nightmare, paired with a flawless set design and Steve Carell’s haunting performance make for a film I won’t soon forget. But despite all its successes, “Foxcatcher” feels equally incomplete and overdone.

This film drags. Maybe it’s the lack of cohesion or the muddled timeline, but “Foxcatcher” doesn’t keep pace with itself. The minimalistic dialogue might have worked in a shorter production, but it exacerbates this film’s 129-minute run time. With the amount of sub-plots that remain incomplete, it wouldn’t have been too difficult to trim the movie down to a more palatable length.

At one point in the film, Dave (Mark Ruffalo) is confused about why a billionaire would set up a wrestling camp and asks his brother, “But what does he get from all of this?” I found myself asking a similar question throughout the film because a lack of characterization makes each character’s motivations practically indecipherable. Maybe “Foxcatcher” is too nuanced for me, but I was consistently confused by each character’s decisions.

The reason “Foxcatcher” remained a contender for numerous awards despite its flawed storyline is the sheer strength of its acting. Sporting a beak of a prosthetic nose, Steve Carell portrays John du Pont, an aloof patriot with old money and slipping sanity. Carell’s performance conveys a range that I didn’t realize he had, and I look forward to seeing him play more serious roles in the future.

Ruffalo and Channing Tatum work well together as brothers and wrestlers. They have a unique chemistry that surfaces when they train, and Tatum conveys a perfect ratio of brotherly affection and sibling rivalry. If the storyline had been more focused, Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo’s acting trifecta would have made “Foxcatcher” the film it aspired to be.

If you decide to watch “Foxcatcher,” be careful to avoid other reviews before seeing it. When I was deciding what film to see this week, I read a review that gave away the ending in the first sentence. Since it’s based on a true story, the film’s ending is public knowledge, but if you do not know what happens, do not spoil the surprise for yourself.

I recommend this film for anyone looking for a dark drama with solid acting or a parable about the whims of the idle wealthy, misplaced nationalism and the consequences of pathological competitiveness.

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@ChronyArts