The O.J. Simpson case isn’t the only sensational murder from the 1990s that has been mined lately by the film and television industry.
The murder of the Olympic wrestler Dave Schultz by John E. du Pont in 1996 has also received multiple treatments, and Netflix joins the club Friday with “Team Foxcatcher.”
It’s a straightforward documentary and a good one for those who haven’t already spent enough time with this strange, unsettling story.
Schultz was among a group of athletes invited by du Pont, a scion of the wealthy chemical company family, to live and train at Foxcatcher Farm, his estate in Pennsylvania. The documentary begins in Eden and ends in a sort of hell as du Pont’s slide into mental instability accelerates with fatal consequences.
The 2014 film “Foxcatcher” was a version of this story, with Steve Carell giving a remarkable performance as du Pont. It played fast and loose with the timeline and other details, as features do, and focused largely on Dave Schultz’s brother and fellow Olympian, Mark (played by Channing Tatum).
“The Prince of Pennsylvania,” a 2015 installment of the ESPN documentary series “30 for 30” (also on Netflix) looked at the case and featured some of the people in “Team Foxcatcher.”
Netflix’s version digs deeper, and the director, Jon Greenhalgh, quietly examines whether complacency led to catastrophe.
Du Pont, who died in prison in 2010 at 72, was a man with an abundance of odd behaviors and an obsession with wrestling, fancying himself as a wrestler though he was well past the age for it.
The amateur athletes he brought to his estate under the banner of Team Foxcatcher were of course glad to have a patron.
Dave Schultz, the film recounts, was closer to du Pont than most of the athletes, though, as events verified, that was not necessarily a good thing.
“We called it the solar system at the farm, the big house being the sun,” someone says, referring to du Pont’s personal home. “And the closer you got to the sun, the more likely you were to get burned.”
Schultz had a laid-back personality that perhaps enabled him to roll with his benefactor’s eccentricities but may have blinded him as well as they went from quirky to ominous. Seeing them here makes it obvious that someone should have done something, but it’s hard to walk away from a gravy train.
In January 1996, for reasons known only to himself, du Pont shot and killed Schultz. This revisiting of that case is, like many recent headline-making instances of violence, evidence that the worst approach to mental illness is ignoring it.