Steve Carell in Foxcatcher (2014)

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Steve Carell received his first Oscar nomination for playing John du Pont in Foxcatcher (2015).

Foxcatcher is a terrific film that I found myself loving much much than I expected myself to. I initially just wanted to watch it for its performances but I was hooked right from the beginning to end. It’s a slow-burner for sure and I get why some may find it boring but I was fascinated by the story and the acting throughout. In fact, it may even get my personal vote for best picture even though it wasn’t nominated and the only other nominee I’ve seen is the actual winner Birdman (okay, I know). Mark Ruffalo also gives a terrific and heartbreaking performance as Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum)’s caring brother Dave, and to be honest I don’t think I would have minded too much if he had won. I really miss the times where supporting nominees are so quietly effective and haunting. Channing Tatum was also surprisingly good.

Foxcatcher was an opportunity for comedian Steve Carell to showcase his dramatic chops. I have read several comments about how he just received the nomination because he was venturing into drama, and how people are pissed that he got the position over Jake Gyllenhaal (Whom I REALLY want to watch). I came in with low expectations because of the overwhelmingly negative reviews that I’ve read, but I came out more impressed than expected. I wasn’t expecting much based on what I’ve seen from the trailer, but I think I would give Carell more credit than most people would.

The performance is pretty divisive: Some are raving about it while some just think that he’s flat out horrible. I’m probably in the middle, but leaning towards the positive side. There were really moments here and there where I saw some brilliantly acted scenes. The “Ornithologist, Philatelist, Philanthropist” scene in the helicopter comes to mind, as well as the scene where he fires the gun in the gym and the slapping scene. It’s during moments like this where we can see du Pont’s troubled state of mind. One of the strongest part of his performance is the way he explored John’s relationship with Mark. John clearly sees himself as an all powerful and inspirational coach to his team, when in reality he is not. The way Tatum and Carell deals with each other is fantastic, from Mark’s increasing discomfort to John’s increasing need to dominate.

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One common criticism I’ve read about Carell’s performance is how he is too mannered throughout his entire performance. Actually, I feel it’s the other way round: it borders on underplayed and one-note. I agree that his way of talking could have been more natural, but it didn’t bother me as much as some people. I get that he is trying to be subtle about his portrayal of du Pont’s mental state, but there were some instances here and there where I felt…nothing. I’m no acting expert and I’m not too familiar with the real John du Pont’s story, but I wish he could have delved into the character’s psychological troubles deeper rather than just give a blank stare. One aspect I really wanted to see more developed was his relationship with his mother, which was probably the root of his problems. I felt like the conversation with his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) was a missed opportunity for him to really show his desperation to earn her approval. That being said, the scene where he pretended to coach in front of her was a great one, but it just wasn’t enough for me.

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Having said all that, Carell has a strong presence throughout his entire film and whenever he’s on screen I felt compelled to learn more about his character. I read that the cast were creeped out by him and in a way I can see why. You can totally sense that the guy is totally off despite how little he does. It’s not a bad performance, and despite being underwhelmed in some areas, I was still impressed by it. 3.5/5.

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