The wrestling community has been looking forward to the public release of the major motion picture Foxcatcher. The wait is over. Foxcatcher opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles this Friday, November 14.
For those of us who were actively involved in wrestling in January 1996, when Team Foxcatcher sponsor John E. du Pont murdered Olympic champion wrestler Dave Schultz in cold blood, there has been some real anxiety about how the movie would come out. I had the opportunity to see the movie a few days ago and that dreaded anxiety has gone away for me. I now have seen what is coming.
This movie review will not assess whether Foxcatcher will receive critical acclaim or whether it will be a big hit at the box office. I leave that to those with expertise in those areas. This review will look at it from a wrestling perspective, from somebody who considered Dave Schultz a friend and who worked at USA Wrestling during the years of Team Foxcatcher and John duPont’s involvement in the sport.
Regardless of whether you love wrestling, or if you personally knew the people involved in this story, you won’t come away from this movie feeling good about life. It is a sad, disturbing story, and the presentation can be described as dark. The death of Dave Schultz in the prime of his life was a tremendous loss to wrestling. Our sport was robbed of one of its most popular figures, somebody who still had a lifetime ahead of him to continue to impact our sport and the lives of others. This movie shows the murder scene in painstaking detail, something that is really hard to watch.
This movie focuses on the story of Mark Schultz. The plot is a behind-the-scenes look at Mark’s life and the decisions and circumstances which changed him forever. The movie starts at about 1987, when Mark was already an Olympic champion and a World champion. He gets a phone call out of the blue from a rich guy he never heard of, some John du Pont from Pennsylvania, with an offer to come out for an important meeting on a topic he did not know. Mark decides to take the meeting, and the story goes on from there.
From the wrestling perspective, there is always concern when a major motion picture decides to include a wrestling theme. Wrestlers have seen too many movies that do not present our sport in a reasonable way. The competition part is often clunky. The dialogue does not seem correct. The presentation does not look real or feel right. That is what we are used to when Hollywood tries to capture wrestling.
Not to worry here. Director Bennett Miller and his entire team took great details to capture wrestling in a realistic way. Not many people know that Miller and his people came out to the Dave Schultz Memorial International many times, attended our Olympic Trials, put in the time to talk to wrestlers, coaches and leaders in the sport. He had been working on this movie for more than a decade, trying to understand who wrestlers are and what they do.
Miller reached out and included wrestling people in creating the movie. Former World Team member John Giura and NCAA champion Jesse Jantzen were part of the production leadership and gave tremendous input in its creation. Miller had a close working relationship with USA Wrestling staff member Doc Bennett, who was often asked for input. They also spent time with Nancy Schultz, Mark Schultz and others who were on site at Foxcatcher, hearing the story from those who were actually involved.
Miller reached out to wrestling people to be part of the shooting of the film, playing the various smaller characters in the background, putting wrestling people in wrestling roles. The attention to detail was painstaking, and in comparison to other movies which included wrestling, the difference was significant and is appreciated.