Film Review: ‘Team Foxcatcher’

Netflix documentary examines the true story behind 2014’s 'Foxcatcher' via wrestling widow Nancy Schultz.

Dave Schultz, Nancy Schultz, John Du Pont.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5598216/

“Team Foxcatcher” begins and ends with Nancy Schultz revisiting the farm of billionaire John Du Pont in Newtown Square, Penn., where she lived with her wrestling-champion husband Dave Schultz until his 1996 murder at the hands of their benefactor. While her presence provides an intimate entry point into this nonfiction retelling of that terrible true-life tale, it’s the absence of Dave’s brother and athletic partner, Mark, that most glaringly sticks out in director Jon Greenhalgh’s film. That incompleteness is a nagging issue throughout, though it shouldn’t hinder this otherwise sterling documentary’s appeal when it debuts exclusively on Netflix later this month.

No reason is given for the omission of Mark, who’s neither heard from nor seen in “Team Foxcatcher’s” copious home-movie footage — shot by Nancy as well as other wrestlers training at the 2,000-acre estate. But his nonappearance will surely strike many as conspicuous, especially in light of the prime role he played (thanks to Channing Tatum) in Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher.” Instead, and unsurprisingly given Nancy’s executive-producer credit, the focus is on Dave, a balding, hairy-chested superstar whose prowess on the mat was equaled by his warm, friendly, goofy demeanor, which many assert was the main reason they agreed to follow him to the lavish training facility constructed on the Foxcatcher Farm by Du Pont.

As the documentary makes clear via archival clips, news broadcasts and fresh interviews with team members, coaches, officials, lawyers and employees, all of it set to John Kusiak’s elegiac score, Du Pont was a lonely, socially inept prince desperate to be embraced by his tough world-class athletes as “one of them.” And Dave — sympathetic to the man’s strangeness, and dependent on him for support for not only himself, but his wife, kids and the athletes he’d recruited on Du Pont’s behalf — was his favorite, an open-hearted bear of a man who not only embodied the athletic greatness Du Pont himself coveted, but humored the wealthy philanthropist’s own wrestling dreams, going so far as to coach him in competitions for which, as old videos expose, he was thoroughly unfit.

Popular on Variety

Greenhalgh assuredly diagrams the relationships between Main House-residing Du Pont and his wrestlers, who (along with their families) became a close-knit community living in close proximity in houses on the property (Nancy dubs it, in hindsight “a sports utopia”). Those dynamics, however, soon became intertwined to the point of knottiness, particularly with regards to Dave’s friendships with Valentin Yordanov and Dan Chaid, two teammates whose waxing and waning favor with Du Pont eventually led to frayed ties between Du Pont and Dave, culminating in the fatal Jan. 26, 1996 shooting that took Dave’s life.

“I’m in charge around here and that’s the way it’s going to be,” Du Pont can be heard telling police officers during his post-homicide stand-off with authorities. That sense of God-like entitlement, of thinking that his wealth afforded him permission to have it all and do as he pleased, is ever-present in “Team Foxcatcher,” be it in his chummy shooting-range affiliation with local cops, to the fact that he hung the Foxcatcher Farm flag higher than the Stars and Stripes.

Such arrogance was paired with paranoid insanity, and Du Pont’s former wrestlers recount one chilling tale after another — of Du Pont spending hours watching static recordings of the nearby woods (and stating he saw non-existent things moving in them); of him suspecting that the property’s trees were actually mechanical; and of him claiming that Dave was using secret underground tunnels to infiltrate his mansion and hang out inside its walls.

The sight of Du Pont, in an old video, telling the camera “On to the world championships and a win. Kill, Kill, Kill!” is unavoidably unnerving, though more distressing still is “Team Foxcatcher’s” coda, in which it’s revealed that — even after Du Pont’s conviction — many wrestlers chose to remain behind and continue training on his land. As Dave’s now-grown son implies, those decisions are evidence that, for some, ignoring one’s conscience and better judgment is a price worth paying in order to achieve a coveted dream.

Film Review: 'Team Foxcatcher'

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., April 13, 2016. (In Tribeca Film Festival — Spotlight.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: (Documentary) A Netflix Documentary, Madrose Prods. presentation, in association with Hattasan Prods., of a Neil Fazzari production. Produced by Neil Fazzari, David Bennett, Jeff Callard. Executive producers, Lisa Nishimura, Adam Del Deo, Ben Cotner, Jeremy Bailer, Ben Hatta, Nancy Schultz. Co-executive producers, Edward McBride, Rich Tavoso, Jerry Cudzil, Michael Cudzil.

Crew: Directed by Jon Greenhalgh. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Neil Fazzari; editor, Shelby Siegel, Jon Greenhalgh, Neil Fazzari; supervising editor, Richard Hankin; music, John Kusiak; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby Digital); supervising sound editors, Nicholas Montgomery, Tom Efinger; re-recording mixers, Tom Efinger, Nicholas Montgomery; visual effects, Przemyslaw K. Radlowski; associate producers, Dan Chaid, John Hyams.

With: Dave Schultz, Nancy Schultz, John Du Pont.

More Film

  • Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc

    Sundance: PBS POV Acquires Kenyan Doc ‘Softie’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    PBS’s documentary arm POV has snapped up U.S. broadcast rights for Kenyan director Sam Soko’s “Softie,” fresh off its world premiere in the World Documentary Cinema competition at Sundance, Variety has learned. The film, which is the first Kenyan-produced movie to premiere at the festival, will air as part of the series’ 33rd season, which kicks [...]

  • Will Smith as Mike Lowrey in

    Box Office: 'Bad Boys for Life' Rules Over 'The Gentlemen'

    STX’s “The Gentlemen” proved no match for Sony’s “Bad Boys for Life,” which again left box office competitors in the dust after collecting $34 million in its sophomore outing. Those ticket sales, pushing the Will Smith and Martin Lawrence-led sequel past the $100 million mark, were easily enough to claim the No. 1 spot for [...]

  • Kajillionaire

    'Kajillionaire': Film Review

    The world is a weird place. Miranda July knows that, but the rest of us sometimes forget. Or maybe we just don’t want to admit how bizarre it is that society more or less agrees that back rubs and hot tubs and flavored chips and McRibs are an appropriate reward for a bazillion years of [...]

  • Stellan Skarsgard

    Göteborg Listens to Stellan according to Skarsgård

    GÖTEBORG Spain — Laughs were aplenty at the Stora Theatern, where Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg welcomed the recipient of the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, fresh off his Golden Globe win for HBO’s “Chernobyl”. “It wasn’t planned. I thought that will be my only award this year, that’s why I said yes!” – joked Skarsgård, [...]

  • Promising Young Woman

    'Promising Young Woman': Film Review

    Given that the entertainment industry is pretty much the center of the #MeToo universe in terms of generating its most public effects — and, needless to say, causes — probably no Sundance film this year will be as hot a conversation topic as “Promising Young Woman.” Emerald Fennell’s first directorial feature is a female revenge [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content