Released: November 2014
Mark Schultz’s Foxcatcher is a story that doesn’t seem to be that well known on this side of the Atlantic, lending a slightly different air to the book than similar works.
Additionally, due to this need to provide exposition for the insight that writer and central figure Schultz provides, much of the prose is devoted to explaining a lot of the key elements – the basic rules of wrestling, the intricacies of the collegiate system, the various different wrestlers around the world. This is necessary given that many readers, drawn in by the imminent film adaptation, will be coming from a starting point of no knowledge, but the manner in which this exposition is integrated into the text needed to be slightly more seamless for the style to truly work.
The story follows Schultz from upcoming college wrestler, through his Olympic triumphs, to his encounters with millionaire John du Pont, the man who would go on to kill Dave Schultz, Mark’s well-respected older brother. It is Schultz’s point of view on such a tragic occurrence that provides the strong backbone for the book.
While the bildungsroman side of the book – seeing Schultz grow into the wrestling world – is a well-trodden path, it is the latter part that really flies as he explores the psychological minefield that surrounded du Pont. His offer to fund Schultz’s training and coaching in between Olympics at first seemed to be a golden goose, yet is shown to be a poisoned chalice instead. The way in which this spiral into despair is portrayed makes for an engrossing end to the text, and it’s not hard to see why Hollywood came calling – from the three distinct characters at the heart of the story, to the ‘American hero’ side, to the meaty dramatic core, everything is there for a strong psychological drama.
The book’s central struggle seems to be integrating the exposition and establishing the voice of Mark Schultz with that of David Thomas, his co-writer. Going on the various interviews with Schultz over the years, he doesn’t come across as the most poetic or eloquent of writers, and so the struggle between keeping hold of his perspective and providing prose that conveys the truth of events is one that doesn’t always succeed. For every moment that the book manages to capture Schultz’s inner feelings, there is a moment where the text turns more vanilla, churning out an overly simplistic tone that seems as though Thomas has simply taken what Schultz has said and rewritten it in the most basic of terms.
Fortunately, this is a tale so powerful and captivating that it manages to shine through the occasional uneven writing. Hopefully the film, which benefits from a more experienced writing tone and promising portrayals from Steve Carrell, Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, will fare even better.