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Foxcatcher: Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

Foxcatcher (2014) movie poster Foxcatcher

Theatrical Release: November 14, 2014 / Running Time: 134 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Bennett Miller / Writers: E. Max Frye, Dan Futterman

Cast: Steve Carell (John du Pont), Channing Tatum (Mark Schultz), Mark Ruffalo (Dave Schultz), Vanessa Redgrave (Jean du Pont), Sienna Miller (Nancy Schultz), Anthony Michael Hall (Jack), Guy Boyd (Henry Beck), Brett Rice (Fred Cole), Daniel Hilt (Roberto Garcia), Jackson Frazer (Alexander Schultz), Samara Lee (Danielle Schultz), Francis J. Murphy III (Danielle Schultz), Francis J. Murphy III (Wayne Kendall)
Foxcatcher is one of DVDizzy.com's Top 100  Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).Foxcatcher ranks 43rd in our list of the Top 100 Movies of the Half-Decade (2010-2014).

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With nominations earned for Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, and Supporting Actor, Foxcatcher clearly would also have been a Best Picture nominee had the Academy Awards stuck with the fixed field of ten they used from 2009 to 2010. Heck, even if the Oscars had chosen nine Best Picture nominees as they had for the first three years of a variable pool, there is no doubt that Foxcatcher would have made the cut. Other recent films like Flight and The Master have made compelling cases for the first runner-up slot. But Foxcatcher's omission from the Best Picture is more obvious, more curious, and more stinging.
How does a film whose writing, directing, and acting all get recognized as the year's best not in turn get chosen to compete for the Academy's top prize? How close to meeting the 5 percent first-place votes requirement did Foxcatcher get? Why bother having only eight Best Picture nominees after three years of nine? Why not just go back to ten nominees to keep things consistent and interesting?

As the first and so far only film to get nominated for Best Director but not Picture since the Academy expanded the Best Picture field in 2009, Foxcatcher's snub seems not just historic but deliberate. Many of those who predict the Oscars for a living saw the movie on the bubble in the weeks leading up to January's nominations announcement, the result of the industry's flagging support and the public's general disinterest. By mid-January, the film had grossed just $9 million and had already seen its theater count decline from a modest 315. This was not looking like the film to beat, as it had been for three-quarters of 2013 until distributor Sony Pictures Classics announced a delay to 2014 to allow more time for editing. A Best Picture nomination seemed likely, based on the fact that director Bennett Miller's previous two true dramas, 2005's Capote and 2011's Moneyball, had each earned them (the former doing so in the days of five nominees). Instead, Foxcatcher breaks Miller's streak and stands as the one 2014 movie that the various branches of the Academy really liked but didn't quite love.

Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) shows off his Olympic gold medal to grade schooler apathy in "Foxcatcher."

Foxcatcher's true story is that of eccentric millionaire John du Pont and Olympic Gold Medalist brothers Mark and Dave Schultz. Second-billed Channing Tatum plays the film's protagonist, Mark. When the film opens in 1987, this 27-year-old does not seem to have much of a life or a personality outside of wrestling. He's paid $20 to give a motivational speech (with medal draped around his neck) that's completely lost on elementary school students. There is no sign of a girlfriend, a friend, or any loved ones besides his big brother Dave (Ruffalo), who essentially raised him after their parents divorced when they were kids.

One night out of the blue, Mark gets a call from a representative of du Pont arranging a meeting between the wealthy heir and the champion wrestler. Mark gets a free plane ride, followed by a helicopter lift out to Foxcatcher Ranch in California. There, the pointy-nosed, socially awkward du Pont (Carell) extends an invitation for Mark to move onto the expansive premises and train there full-time for the upcoming World Championships and subsequent Summer Olympics in Seoul. Setting his own salary as high as he can imagine ($25,000 a year), Mark accepts the offer and takes advantage of the massive gym and scenic grounds. Du Pont, who has Mark describe him as a father figure in an introductory speech, wants Dave to come to Foxcatcher as well, but he resists moving his wife (Sienna Miller) and two young children while being courted for a coaching job with USA Wrestling.

Mark's arrangement at Foxcatcher is strange and though it initially serves him well on an athletic basis, he comes to develop a drug problem after du Pont, who likes to be called "Eagle", introduces him to cocaine. Narcotics only compound Mark's antisocial behavior and not even a move to Foxcatcher by Dave and his family can ease the tension or halt the younger brother's downward spiral.

John du Pont (Steve Carell), the creepy self-proclaimed Golden Eagle of America, uses part of his estate to train Olympic wrestlers.

Foxcatcher builds and sustains compelling atmosphere, sweeping you up in this unsettling wonderland adorned with foxes, eagles, and fox hunting trophies. You are fascinated and intrigued long before its chilling finale arrives. Though that was described at the project's conception, I'll avoid spoiling it for you in the very likely chance you don't know the story.
As presented, the film's end could puzzle and frustrate those unfamiliar with the tale, who may struggle to make sense of it. There aren't any easy answers, for this character study of real, abnormal human behavior doesn't have them and Miller isn't arrogant enough to invent them and spoon-feed viewers.

Foxcatcher does feature a lot of wrestling. You may assume a person needs an appreciation for the sport (and not the popular, scripted "professional" variety) to enjoy the proceedings. That is not the case. I entered the film with less interest and admiration for wrestling than basically any other sport. I left unchanged. That is a non-issue. Non-team sports are an exceptional device for storytelling. You don't need to like boxing to enjoy The Fighter, Rocky, or Raging Bull. A complete disinterest in mixed martial arts is not why I didn't think much of Warrior or Here Comes the Boom. Foxcatcher is a film about wrestlers (and a creepy benefactor), not a film about wrestling.

Miller conveys the sport well without ever casting judgment on it either way. The film wouldn't be drastically different if the Schultz brothers were boxers. They just weren't. There's a certain machismo embodied by the central activity that is critically contrasted with the more noble (yet more savage) sport of hunting that is dear to the heart of du Pont's mother (a brief but exquisite Vanessa Redgrave). We never fully understand Mr. du Pont's attraction to wrestling. You are certainly welcome to read some psychosexual factor into it, befitting the somewhat sociopathic personality he is given. The important thing is that wrestling is at odds with his upbringing and his wealth, which afford him the ability to spend his time and money as he pleases. Other passions of his include offering tactical advice to local police and buying operational military tanks.

One of the few 2014 films that made a really big impression on me in theaters, Foxcatcher stands out with something last year's cinema was largely lacking in: personalities to invest in and relate to. More conventional biopics like The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Big Eyes laid out digestible stories designed to move and inspire. They're all effective to various degrees, but none of them felt like they were populated by real, complex, three-dimensional human beings. Those unmoved by Foxcatcher's depictions could make the same argument against it while bemoaning that it is slow and relatively uneventful. If you're not entering with an open mind and giving the film the attention it deserves, perhaps you won't appreciate the complexity of these characters, the richness of the thick tension, and the value of the understated manner of storytelling. The film's unremarkable and dropping 7.2 user rating on IMDb says less about the film than about the attention spans of the young men predominantly responsible for that score. This demographic regularly ranks highly films full of action and violence. Foxcatcher is less visceral and more psychological than you might expect. Flash is not Miller's specialty.

Older brother Dave Schultz (a balding Mark Ruffalo) rejects Mark's offer to join him at Foxcatcher. John du Pont's mother, horse and hound enthusiast Jean (Vanessa Redgrave), looks down upon the sport her son inexplicably loves.

Drawing first-rate performances from the cast is one of the director's fortes. The three focal actors, all celebrities who come to this project from markedly different backgrounds, give the film some of their best work to date. Though not nominated for the Oscar, Tatum is the biggest surprise. The brawny lughead who built a following on mindless action and romance has shown in recent years he is capable of not preventing a good movie from being good. Foxcatcher is more than good, though, and Tatum's committed, unshowy performance is a big part of that. Speaking of unshowy, Ruffalo is the definition of that in his highly appealing tertiary turn.
This film put him in the Oscars' Supporting Actor category for only the second time, but his reliably interesting contributions should make him a fixture there. In limited screentime, Ruffalo subtly supplies a wealth of emotion and heart that gives meaning to everything else. If Whiplash had come a year sooner or later, Ruffalo would have made a worthy Oscar winner, though one can easily imagine his performance not being as big as that category usually calls for.

Carell is huge in this movie and in this hypothetical J.K. Simmons-less year, he too could have had a shot at the Supporting Actor Oscar. But he was campaigned, fairly, in the Lead Actor category and reasonably placed there by all but the BAFTAs. Carell is an extremely talented actor who has shown his gifts much too infrequently. There was "The Office", at its best an unlikely upgrade over its decorated British predecessor, which extensively showcased Carell's comedy chops and occasionally teased his ability to draw compassion and sympathy. He made Michael Scott more than just an idiot boss, but you may forget that looking over the actor's generally mediocre film work in broad comedies like Get Smart, Evan Almighty, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone and mushy tearjerkers like Dan in Real Life and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Though the part might look like calculated reinvention for Carell, it is not. It is an impressive full-fledged characterization that presents a figure more frightening than any encountered last year (even Simmons' short-fused band leader). I never bought Carell could be out of the Oscar running; those crying foul regarding the perceived snubs of Jake Gyllenhaal, David Oyelowo, and Ralph Fiennes need direct their anger elsewhere. Though Carell's tastes may draw him to middle-of-the-road mainstream comedies, the dramatic powers he channels here qualify him for much better films. If only he could have the past eight years to do over again and make better film choices. For an A-lister with his pick of Hollywood's litter, good movies should be coming with much greater frequency.

The Academy's like of the film earned it an expansion to 759 theaters and a slight bump in business. Still, Foxcatcher never cracked the weekly top ten and it's more or less finished with a gross of just $12 million domestically. That is just half of the film's reported $24 million production budget, which disqualified it from the Independent Spirit Awards (they require a $20 M budget or less), where it still accepted a Special Distinction Award. That makes it the latest heralded, challenging film to lose money from producer Megan Ellison, a billionaire without whom we might not have gotten some of the very best films of the past five years, including Her, The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, and American Hustle.

A week after losing all five of its Oscar bids, most criminally the Makeup and Hairstyling award to The Grand Budapest Hotel, Foxcatcher hits stores on DVD and the Blu-ray + Digital HD UltraViolet edition reviewed here.

Watch Foxcatcher video clips:
Trailer I Want to Win Gold Brother's Shadow A Low Sport Psychological Issues

Foxcatcher Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 3, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It isn't necessary for character studies to be nicely photographed, but Foxcatcher gladly is. Presented perfectly on Blu-ray like most Sony transfers, the stately 1.85:1 compositions contribute to the film's potent atmosphere with a classical, ethereal quality that treats Foxcatcher like a (nearly) modern-day Xanadu. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack grabs most notice for its capable distribution of dialogue, but music and effects are also nicely mixed.

A blonde frosted Channing Tatum creeps up behind the real Mark Schultz on the set of "Foxcatcher." Nancy Schultz, a surprisingly thin role for Sienna Miller, does appear in both of the Blu-ray's deleted scenes.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD video extras begin with "The Story of Foxcatcher" (16:20), a featurette of considerable value which lends insight into this long-in-development project.

Miller discusses the origins and evolution, while the actors describe how they became involved, their wrestling training, and their collaborations. There's less about the real story than you might like, but at least we get the blessings of the real Nancy Schultz and Mark Schultz.

Next come two deleted scenes (5:08) that feel more like three: a moment between Dave Schultz and his family, a runaway tank at Foxcatcher, and a tense encounter between Mark Schultz and Dave's wife. One gets the sense that there's a lot more unused footage we could have gotten here, but these cuts are welcome.

Finally, unmentioned in the case but thankfully included as a Sony Pictures Classics standard is Foxcatcher's original theatrical trailer (2:20).

Trailers for Whiplash, Red Army, Mr. Turner, Leviathan, and Love Is Strange play at disc insertion and from the menu's "Previews" listing.

The menu attaches score to the cover/poster pose. The disc kindly resumes playback and also lets you set bookmarks.

Like other Sony Blu-rays where the "+ Digital HD" is prominently included on the packaging, Foxcatcher is topped by a cardboard slipcover. An insert in the side-snapped keepcase supplies your Digital HD with UltraViolet code that will also net you some Sony Rewards points.

Eventually, both Schultz brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum) move to Foxcatcher and train for their wrestling matches there.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not everyone will appreciate Foxcatcher, but those who do will love this rich, haunting character study regardless of what they know and how they feel about wrestling coming in. Sony's Blu-ray complements a fine feature presentation with 23 solid minutes of bonus features. I recommend this release without reservations.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Bennett Miller: Moneyball | New: St. Vincent The Humbling The Judge
Oscar Nominees: The Grand Budapest Hotel Boyhood Selma Guardians of the Galaxy
Steve Carell: The Way, Way Back Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Channing Tatum: 21 Jump Street 10 Years | Mark Ruffalo: The Kids Are All Right Now You See Me
Sports: Win Win The Fighter Rocky Glory Road He Got Game
Produced by Megan Ellison: American Hustle Her The Master Zero Dark Thirty Lawless

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Reviewed March 2, 2015.



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