By Kelan Young

Mailed on January 25, 2015

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Dear Steve Carell

Dear Steve,

Have you ever watched a movie that, by all accounts, you should like, but for whatever reason the pieces never quite click into place and you’re left cold? For me, Foxcatcher fits that description perfectly. It's admirable in many respects; handsomely put together with some standout performances from Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo. Unfortunately, your weirdly one-note portrayal of the wealthy and eccentric John du Pont is one of those cold, out-of-place pieces.

The problem is, from the very moment he’s introduced, you play him as slightly off. Actually, no, that isn't quite right. “Slightly off” better describes Tatum's Mark Schultz, the socially awkward striver prone to startling episodes of self harm. What you did, instead, was borrow a page from the Jack Nicholson playbook and go big right from the start (see The Shining), turning up the dial on Du Pont’s jarring bizarreness rather than mapping a more gradual descent into madness.

Sure, this makes Du Pont so markedly different from anyone he interacts with that it raises the question as to what exactly he's capable of, and some of the early scenes are indeed filled with an uneasy tension. But it becomes evident the longer the film goes on that there will be little nuance or variation to your performance, and what started out as aberrant and unsettling quickly becomes tedious. I went into the film knowing little of the real life du Pont, and once the credits began to roll I was just as uninformed. The screenplay grasps at explaining his psychology, but it’s all fairly shallow and uninteresting (he has mommy issues, surprise surprise).

But I'm not going to lay all the blame entirely on your shoulders. Far from it. Foxcatcher, as a whole, is flat. There's little spark to the wrestling scenes, which is surprising given that so much of the film's narrative revolves around Schultz and his team training for the 1998 Olympics. Additionally, the relationship between Mark Schultz and Du Pont, complete with blurry sexual subtext, is never truly engaging. The grand moment of tragedy, towards which the whole film builds, feels oddly mishandled. Not just because your performance makes it clear, from the very moment you appear onscreen, that Du Pont is capable of doing terrible things (we’re basically waiting for it to happen for two interminable hours), but because the other character involved spends almost no screen time with you. The stakes feel low. If it wasn’t based on true events, the ending would feel like a cheap, easy way to add a jolt to the otherwise uneventful narrative.

It was hard to not be intrigued by the prospect of seeing you in a fully dramatic role, and I hope you continue taking on such projects in the future. Maybe next time choose one that offers you a better chance to flex your dramatic muscles.



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