Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Movie Review: Team Foxcatcher

Team Foxcatcher
Directed by: Jon Greenhalgh.
Anyone of has seen Bennett Miller’s excellent film Foxcatcher (2014), will likely find two things odd about the Netflix documentary, Team Foxcatcher – which, like Miller’s (heavily fictionalized film), centers on the murder of wrestler Dave Schultz at the hands of eccentric million John Du Pont. The first is that the existence of Mark Schultz isn’t even mentioned  - despite the fact that he was Dave’s brother, was also an Olympic wrestler, and also lived (for a time) at the Foxcatcher ranch with John Du Pont. I understand that perhaps Mark didn’t want to be involved in the documentary – and the filmmakers may have wanted to concentrate on other aspects of the story, but to not mention him seems odd (Mark, as portrayed by Channing Tatum, was the main character in Foxcatcher). The other odd thing is that Team Foxcatcher doesn’t even reference Miller’s film at all – odd, because it was the Miller film that brought the case back into the media’s attention, which likely meant this film got green lit, and because the Netflix doc is clearly trying to cash in on the name recognition of that film, by calling this one Team Foxcatcher. Neither of this omissions is fatal to the documentary – and yet, taken together, they do make you wonder what else the film may not be mentioning. By their nature, even documentary films cannot tell the complete story of any one event – yet when there are omissions like this, it does make you think.
Team Foxcatcher is a fairly straight forward re-telling of what happened in 1996 – when John Du Pont went from eccentric millionaire to murderer – and all the warning signs that should have been seen by any number of people, who chose not to see them because Du Pont was so rich. It wasn’t that Du Pont was above the law, and would bribe his way out of trouble – it was that he was everyone’s meal ticket, and really, what harm was he doing? He was weird, he liked to hunt animals out of the window of his car, etc. But he put so much money in USA wrestling, and into local institutions, including the police, everyone just decided to look the other way.
Team Foxcatcher, by its very nature, ends up being a morose affair – the film doesn’t try to surprise the audience with the revelation of the murder – so that almost the entire movie plays as preamble to it – each piece being obvious to the audience, but not to those being interviewed. Of course, since by the time the documentary was made, Dave Schultz and John Du Pont had died, its missing the two most important players in the drama. The two of them seem to haunt the movie – seen only in glimpses in home video footage – presenting a cheerful front. We do have interviews with Schultz’s wife, and children – but they are hardly the most central figures to the doc. Those are the other wrestlers who spent time at Foxcatcher, alongside Schultz and Du Pont – who makes everything sound like it was terrific – right up until it wasn’t, which was long before the murder.
Team Foxcatcher is an odd documentary in that it is a film that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of Bennett Miller’s fictionalized account in Foxcatcher, and yet is going to be of interest primarily to those who have seen that film. Miller’s film was undeniably fictionalized – it compressed time, it ascribed motivations of people that are questionable – and took other liberties necessary to tell a story. Team Foxcacther takes a Dragnet style, just the facts ma’am, approach to telling the story. The result is interesting – a perhaps necessary film that lets people see the real people Miller fictionalized. But without Miller’s far better film, I wonder if Team Foxcatcher would be very interesting at all – I doubt it. It plays like a DVD bonus feature more than a film unto itself – a good feature to be sure, but a bonus feature just the same.

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