Before Whiplash stole its thunder this was the talk of the festival circuit: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo doing the acting in Bennett Miller’s follow up to Moneyball. On the face of it, that’s a promising line-up, although to be honest I found Moneyball a bit tedious so that’s not a big draw for me.
Foxcatcher is a true story – take my advice, if you don’t know it, don’t google until you’ve seen the film, it’s worth not knowing. Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his brother Dave (Ruffalo) are Olympic wrestlers. Dave is at the end of his career and turning to coaching, but Mark still has another gold medal in his sights. When eccentric millionaire John Du Pont (Carell) offers to coach him at his luxury ranch, Mark is fastening his seatbelt on Du Pont’s private plane before you can say chinlock; he doesn’t have anything to leave behind, except a diet of supernoodles and his tv. Dave isn’t interested in joining him despite a big bucks offer – he’s married (to Sienna Miller) with kids, and has no desire to uproot. It all starts off well for Mark, but before long the temptations and pressures from the increasingly bonkers Du Pont are too much and everything goes a bit pear-shaped. Well, a hell of a lot pear-shaped actually. But as I said, don’t google it.
Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo are excellent, playing against type and uglying up – all wearing tshirts that say OSCAR BAIT under their wrestling vests. Well, Tatum uglies up as much as he can, his Mark Schulz is an archetypal neanderthal wrestler, lonely and looking for a father figure. He’s a sad case, the gold medal is the only thing he has in life and he clings onto it like a life raft. Ruffalo probably has the least to do out of the three, playing the good big brother and stepping in when Mark’s life starts to spiral out of control. But Carell is almost unrecognisable as Du Pont, a man so rich he doesn’t have to answer to anyone except his mother (a totally underused Vanessa Redgrave). He wears a prosthetic nose so large that at times you can see him struggle to act around it. It’s actually quite amazing he can hold his head upright.
But what should be a slick film about ambition, loneliness and repression turns out to be a rather dull and overlong plod through a story that doesn’t really have enough meat on the bone. You can have the best acting in the world, but if the audience aren’t gripped by what’s going on, it’s a bit of a waste. There’s a lot missing here, parts of the story feel a bit disjointed, we don’t really learn much about Mark Schultz or John Du Point other than that one is desperate to be his big brother and the other is a spoiled rich kid afraid to acknowledge his sexuality. Everyone’s a stereotype.
Ultimately disappointing, Foxcatcher is three great performances in search of a story.
I should confess up front that I’ve never seen 21 Jump Street. Or 19 or 20 Jump Street for that matter. I didn’t even watch the tv show (or in fact have any recollection that it existed). So it’s fair to say I wasn’t really expecting much more than an ogle at Channing Tatum’s guns from 22 Jump Street. And frankly, you can do worse for a night out than that, much worse (just got a refund on my Grace of Monaco ticket).
I was expecting an evening of slight confusion, eye rolling and maybe the odd giggle here and there. But wait. 22 Jump Street is actually pretty damn good – the leads are brilliantly matched and I think I even laughed at the jokes I didn’t get. It’s that funny. Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (fresh from Lego Movie success) don’t so much push the fourth wall as smash through it in a funny little helmet car like something out of Wacky Races. The script is whip smart and joyously self-mocking, turning the idea of a money-spinning sequel on its head and stamping on it. There is a plot but it plays a very low second fiddle to the jokes, which come thick and fast for the entire two hours (which flies by for the most part). So I won’t waste time on it here.
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill have wonderful chemistry, from a Harold Lloyd moment early on which sees them dangling from a bridge like a pair of old trainers, to the weirdly referenced Benny Hill car chase, they get a laugh out of every moment. Even one from Cate Blanchett. The end credit sequence might well have been my favourite bit, which also makes you wonder what the team have in store for Jump Street‘s future.
With great support from Ice Cube and Nick Offerman, plus a wonderful scene-stealing performance from Jillian Bell, if such a thing is possible, the cast are clearly having the time of their lives. It’s impossible not to be swept along with them.
PS Tatum’s guns are incredible. Top marks for them too. I shall now return to arthouse cinema and pretend this never happened.