Netflix’s new documentary Team Foxcatcher continues the red-hot true crime genre
Sports movies tend to carry a triumphant theme and tone. They are usually underdog tales meant to inspire or uplift, but Netflix’s Team Foxcatcher is not your typical spirited documentary. While men dream of glory and overcoming the odds in the game of American Olympic wrestling, this doc shifts its focus to an unstable subject, millionaire John du Pont.
Just two years ago, Bennett Miller re-introduced the world to du Pont and his murder of Olympic wrestler and Coach Dave Schultz. The film is dark and brooding, and Steve Carell earned an Academy Award nomination for his disquieting portrayal of John du Pont. While Bennett’s Foxcatcher paints the infamous man as mysterious and creepy, Team Foxcatcher puts us face to face with the man himself.
There is a sense of dread that surrounds Miller’s feature, but the Netflix documentary introduces us to the other teammates that made up the rest of the wrestling team. Through interviews with other athletes and Schultz’s wife Nancy (the emotional center of the documentary), we see the Foxcatcher compound through different eyes. When the athletes arrive there is a sense that it’s almost too good to be true—a lavish recreational space that almost guaranteed gold medal victory over the Soviet Union.
It doesn’t take long for Team Foxcatcher to delve into du Pont’s paranoia, and as it grows the more alarming it is. He thinks there are tunnels in and out of the vast estate and that his father built mechanical trees on the property. It’s not long before the athletes are being threatened at gunpoint, and he even fires African American members of the team because he suddenly is freaked out by anything that’s the color black.
Part of what makes Team Foxcatcher so disturbing is how it’s shot. Using almost all interviews and archival footage, we get to see the actual Foxcatcher compound and how John du Pont interacted with his athletes. We see the childish glint in his eye and how he carries himself. It’s as if what we’re watching is from a box of home movies that should never have been opened. The doc shows how fierce of a competitor Dave was in the ring. He comes across as a loving father and very much admired by his fellow athletes, and one of the saddest moments comes to the end when his children talk about how du Pont robbed them of knowing their dad. John du Pont looms over almost everything. In certain shots he reminded me of a more childish Robert Durst.
The major complaint I have about the new documentary is that Mark Schultz is nowhere to be found. The main focus is du Pont’s relationship with his wrestlers and his descent into madness, and we begin and end the documentary with explanations of Dave’s murder. Mark, a wrestler who penned his own book after his brother’s murder, isn’t even mentioned in any of the footage. Doesn’t that seem strange to anyone else?
Re-visiting true crime is pretty hot right now in television. The People vs. OJ Simpson set the bar very high and Making a Murderer definitely whipped everyone into a frenzy. Team Foxcatcher is another small reminder that fact can indeed be more terrifying than fiction.