Film

A Netflix Doc Digs at the Truth Behind the Foxcatcher Killing

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If you thought the billionaire played by Steve Carell in Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher was eerie, please allow me to introduce you to the real John du Pont. A dangerous concoction of lonely and paranoid, du Pont was blessed with money and mobility, and cursed with the kind of childhood that psychotherapists were born to study. With the great resources available to him, du Pont founded his Foxcatcher Farm, a world-class athletic training facility, to support young athletes in their quests for gold medals. If you’ve seen Miller’s movie, you know that the sport of wrestling and two ambitious brothers will play a central role in a terrible du Pont tragedy, but that prior knowledge isn’t necessary to be blown away by this true-crime story of surreal proportions.

While the lightly fictionalized Foxcatcher has already focused intently on the inner workings of a man driven toward the edge of sanity, Jon Greenhalgh’s documentary Team Foxcatcher — composed of present-day interviews and creepily telling home video and audio recordings from the family of Dave Schultz — takes a deeper and more realistic look at the how and why behind du Pont’s infamous murder.

An Olympic wrestler who trained at Foxcatcher, Schultz was by all accounts a charismatic, good person, described as a hippie by friends and family. Smart, too — he learned Russian to better understand the great wrestling coaches of the time. Schultz stood apart with a goofy Zen charm, not just wrestling, but offering “effective solutions to whatever problem you had,” a wrestling friend states. Du Pont, initially a solution, became one of those problems.

The easygoing Schultz had a calming effect on the people who knew him, especially du Pont, who was prone to outbursts and the testing of boundaries. In multiple videos seen here, du Pont hangs on the periphery of a smiling, boisterous group of chiseled wrestlers and their families on the Foxcatcher estate. His face is almost always dour or brooding, and he often breaks off a thoughtful stare to deliver a pronouncement or two of his own brilliance — it’s truly chilling. And while du Pont seems awkward on the screen, Schultz is nonchalant, welcoming him into the real action like a friend, teaching him the finer points of wrestling and offering helpful criticism.

And that’s something this doc hits on constantly: Schultz really felt like du Pont was a friend. He was also one of the few people who wouldn’t bullshit the benefactor. Wealth insulated du Pont from most intrusions of reality. He was so rich and so alone, it was almost inevitable he would fear being used, and this paranoia blossomed until he would hunt deer with a machine gun from the window of his car, fire every African-American man from the team because he had decided that black was bad luck, and burn down a house on his own property to prove a point. He’d even drive his car into a pond twice in one week just to do it.

The crazier he acted, with nobody saying a word about it, the worse his delusions became, until he was paying ex-CIA officers to investigate the men he believed lived in his walls. Did the professionals tell him he was nuts? No. They pocketed his money and let him continue on a path of personal destruction. Unfortunately, Schultz — ever the loyal friend — stuck by his sponsor, as did everyone else who profited from du Pont, like the police chief and the entire department that hunted and shot guns on the estate.

You probably know what happened next — and if you don’t, it becomes obvious pretty quickly. But this documentary isn’t just about suspense; it’s about every person surrounding this story who could have stopped all of it and didn’t.

An air of guilt pervades every discussion of Schultz and du Pont in interviews with wrestlers from Team Foxcatcher. Dan Chaid, one of Schultz’s best friends at the farm, is one of the few who carries a different emotion: grief mixed with disbelief. Chaid had had his own run-in with du Pont, with the scion pointing a gun barrel at his chest, and had begged Schultz to leave, to no avail. Part of Schultz’s choice to stay was the opportunity Foxcatcher afforded him and his family, but Schultz also just didn’t believe du Pont could do something so terrible. Schultz, to his credit, seems to be the rare person not feeding into the eccentric’s delusions.

The fictionalized Foxcatcher film had an eagle-eyed focus on du Pont’s relationship with Schultz’s brother Mark. With that removed, Team Foxcatcher showcases the collective guilt and complicity of innocent people. As you watch one clip after another of du Pont firing a machine gun into the air or holding his fingers like a gun to fake-shoot Schultz, the cameraman, you can’t help but wonder what they all were thinking letting this go on. But hindsight is a bitch, and she doesn’t have a family or ambitions or bills to pay.

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