Words: Rob DeStefano
Bennett Miller has directed some knockout roles: Truman Capote as played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Brad Pitt’s portrayal of Billy Beane (Moneyball). These are larger than life individuals with clearly defined traits rather than nuances, but Miller presents them with a sense of understatement. He continues now with Foxcatcher, an all too real tale of John du Pont and his relationship with the Schultz brothers. Miller tends to the facts in his adaptation, allowing the audience to integrate their own personal interpretations and reflections. Regardless of how this pans out for the viewer, there is no denying the cold darkness that lurks at the heart.
The three central players are filled by an unlikely trio, and in perfect Miller fashion, each gives arguably his best performance to date. Du Pont (Steve Carell in disfiguring makeup), an eccentric – to be soft – philanthropist, ornithologist, and multimillionaire, reaches out to Olympic wrestling champion, Mark Schultz (a brooding Channing Tatum). Mark is charmed by Du Pont’s extravagant opulence and interest in the sport, and the two transform his Pennsylvania estate into a training farm. As the relationship sours, Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo), older brother and mentor, takes up residency with Team Foxcatcher to help focus Mark’s attention.
Foxcatcher is more than just a cautionary tale of unhealthy partnerships. Its characters’ vulnerability is palpable. This is most evident after Mark, a powerhouse of a human, has a meltdown in his hotel and collapses into his brother’s arms. Equally as telling are John du Pont’s eerie interactions with his mother, a female figure who apparently left approval to be desired. The melancholy surrounding these events is echoed brilliantly in Greig Fraser’s (Zero Dark Thirty) cinematography. Du Pont and Mark often have great space at their fingertips, but remain somehow confined in the screen, for example, by the arches of a building or the windows of a helicopter.
Before this, Tatum’s comedic chops were his best attribute. There’s no humor to his performance here, and aside from a few brief moments, he’s seamless as Mark. Carell is the frightening combination of a pumpkin shaped body atop skeletal legs, all supporting a lobotomized head. He is the villain, but Miller refrains from accusing him as one in the film. Apparently the cast/crew avoided Carell on set because they were so disturbed by his appearance, and this included Miller, who gave him sparse direction. Foxcatcher is an ideal showcase for all its talent involved.
Release Date: November 14th
From Director Albert Maysles, best known for his work with his late brother David on the influential Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter, comes Iris, a documentary centered around the eponymous fashion icon, Iris Apfel. Albert, still making films at age 87, strays from his direct cinema approach, peppering his footage of Iris’s fashion events and activities with archival bits and interviews. If you have no knowledge of her, which I did not, it’s a brief and informative look into her life; at 93, her spunk is only rivaled by her century-aged husband. But aside from some humorous antics, Iris isn’t nearly as inspiring or penetrative as I had hoped for.
When directing team Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland were asked to adapt Lisa Genova’s harrowing novel about a woman’s early onset Alzheimer’s disease, they met the challenge with concern, Glatzer himself just diagnosed with ALS in 2011. But he saw the greatest complexity in Still Alice, a young person’s loss of connection to the world she loves, and so he undertook the mission to write and direct the film, and before long, he was on set with a tablet to speak for him, his creative and nurturing husband Wash beside him, and Julianne Moore ready to listen.
For every four or so bad roles Moore chooses, she has one crushing home run. Her performance as Dr. Alice Howland, a Columbia University linguistics scholar who succumbs to the disease, is one of them. She begins showing symptoms early on, and the filmmakers compress her defeating progression without ever giving us text to delineate the timeline – a decision that would have surely made Still Alice feel too clinical. Keeping the story about Alice, the film achieves a natural authenticity to its affliction. Even little touches provide the humanity that the co-directors searched for; for example, when Alice undergoes evaluations with her neurologist, the camera remains fixed on Moore, who fills the frame, not even letting the white coats intrude. However, in doing so, some supporting roles border archetypal territory. Most notably her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, is often seen mumbling about glucose and issues with cytokines – he’s a scientist, obviously. The only family member who receives genuine thought is the youngest daughter, Lydia (Kristen Stewart). Stewart, again at this festival, is here to prove that she is in fact an actress.
While everything works so well, in large part due to Moore’s gravitational performance, I found the score to be distractingly sentimental early on. The subject matter is inherently despairing, do we need an auditory reinforcement? As Alice loses coherence, the repetitive notes of score continue to find their way to Alice, and by the end, there’s something almost comforting about hearing that melody again.
Moore won the Best Actress award at Cannes for Maps to the Stars. Still Alice is slated for release at the end of 2014. Be sure to see this actress, who’s been at the top of her game, to come into year-end conversations. I guess this also debunks my 4:1 theory.
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