‘Foxcatcher’ Wrestler Mark Schultz is Pretty Angry at Director Bennett Miller
When a film boasts that it’s “based on a true story,” that doesn’t mean “here is an exact chronological replication of events that 100 percent happened exactly the way they are presented here.” Instead, what it usually means is that the filmmaker has taken certain liberties, while relaying the story in a way that’s still honest about the things that really matter. ‘Foxcatcher’ is a film that takes some liberties, but it still gets to the heart of the story of Olympic gold medalist Mark Schultz. And while Schultz was initially supportive of the film, he’s now changed his tune, lashing out at director Bennett Miller for what he perceives is an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of his life.
Schultz has written his own memoir of his life (also called ‘Foxcatcher’), which details his life, as well as that of his brother Dave and the notorious John Du Pont—the heir to the Du Pont fortune who hosted a state-of-the-art training facility on his vast property, where he invited talented wrestlers to join his Foxcatcher team. In the film, some of the events are fictionalized. For instance, Du Pont’s mother died before Mark ever joined Foxcatcher, and Dave didn’t actually go to Foxcatcher until after Mark had already left.
But the reasoning behind these changes is obvious and understandable, and largely character-driven: Keeping DuPont’s mother alive in the film allows us to better understand some of his motives, and placing Mark and Dave at Foxcatcher at the same time heightens the tension while also underscoring the character dynamics. Any logical person knows that when a film says it’s “based on a true story,” it doesn’t mean “everything happened exactly like this.”*
Apparently Mark Schultz didn’t get that memo. Schultz was often present on the set of the film, helped Channing Tatum with his portrayal of the Olympic athlete, and even attended the film’s premiere at Cannes with Bennett Miller (briefly changing his Facebook profile photo to one of him with Miller at Cannes, as noted by THR). What makes Schultz’s change of tune more interesting is the way he specifically cites some weirdly perceived sexual tension between himself and Du Pont in the film, calling it a “sickening and insulting lie.”
If anything, Schultz makes it sound as though he’s just gotten around to reading some reviews and isn’t quite pleased with the way some critics have interpreted things. To be fair, the film is based on the story of his life and his brother, and the subject matter is probably pretty touchy for him, even now. It’s easy to understand that Schultz might perceive these reviews of the film as criticisms of his life, triggering such an intense response from him.
Miller has yet to respond to Schultz’s attack and allegations. It’s awards season, which means there are some smear campaigns being waged against critical darlings. Ava DuVernay has recently come under scrutiny for her portrayal of President Lyndon B. Johnson in ‘Selma,’ although there have been just as many defenders as there are detractors. At the very least, the timing of Schultz’s attack is curious given the season.
*Joel and Ethan Coen’s ‘Fargo’ famously and cleverly toyed with the “based on a true story” idea.